A Country Club for the Rest of Us - OZY | A Modern Media Company

A Country Club for the Rest of Us

By Christine Ciarmello


Because no one under 40 even knows what the acronym YMCA stands for anymore.  

Does anyone remember community centers? Not the ones that (barely) operate out of a building that has the creative mojo and warmth of the local DMV, where a few kids play dodgeball and religious cults commune, but the type of place that actually brings people together.

And not for golf or tennis or tuna salads served poolside for an annual membership fee that could put two kids through college.

Instead, how about one that welcomes them — with craft beer on tap and tango lessons — when they graduate?

It’s like a Montessori made over for adults. The Aughties’ reinvention of the coffeehouse but on uber-artisan steroids. 

Enter the Maker House, which swung open its solid wood doors this past October in downtown Tucson, Ariz. Here membership is free to cheap, and the community-center-like offerings are of the sort that would attract mountaineers, engineers and puppeteers. The mansion, once the headquarters of the Mountain Oyster Club, has a history dating back to the 1800s and a rare mural by Mexican artist and bullfighter Salvador Corona. 

Today, if you time it right, you might come upon a musician playing a didgeridoo or a contrabassoon in its revamped Mediterranean courtyard or beneath the café’s polished tin ceilings. Or maybe a class will be in progress. On the roster: latte art, hydroponic gardening and a class that combines self-defense and knitting called Knitted to Death. (Note to prospective students: This class is on hold until insurance concerns can be sorted through.)

At this point, you’d be excused for assuming the 15,000-square-foot mesquite-floored mansion was handcrafted with heirloom adobe by a handlebar-moustached millennial from Brooklyn. But Tony Ford, the husky 37-year-old founder with an MBA and radio-ready voice, falls firmly in the Gen-X category — and comes to Tucson via the untrendy state of South Carolina.

Maker House has fireplaces and arcade games. It also has WiFi, a barista, pastries baked by a Le Cordon Bleu grad and a library of laser cutters, sewing machines, 3-D printers and a kiln. “But tools are just the conduit,” says Ford.

Maker House recalls the lost art of salons, only with more steampunk-y subject matter and made-to-order espresso drinks.

It’s like a Montessori made over for adults. The Aughties’ reinvention of the coffeehouse but on uber-artisan steroids. Yes, there are the multiplying co-working and hacker spaces and even fab labs (doesn’t that name make you cringe?). But they are more outwardly a-c-h-i-e-v-i-n-g. “They are geared toward the tech side,” says Ford. “We decided to create an artisan-focused space.” One that nurtures the right side of the brain. 

Remember the house where everyone wanted to hang out after school? The one with the pool (both swimming and table), the Atari and the home-delivered tins of Charles Chips? And you thought it was about those things? Nah, it was more about reaching what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called flow.

“If you go to Mexico’s towns, they have the plazas. There’s flirting, there’s food, there’s music. It’s a public cross-pollination gathering space where the community experiences itself. We don’t have that anymore,” explains Ford. Instead we have malls, and let’s go ahead and say it, Starbucks. “It’s about maximum sales per square foot. We are missing that common plaza space.”

“Plaza” Maker House currently attracts about 2,000 Tuscon locals per month. For the Science of Zombies class taught by resident physicist Dr. W. Thomas Hintz, 80 people showed. And coming soon … the Philosophy of Teleportation. These types of discussions are meant to recall the lost art of salons, only with more steampunk-y subject matter and made-to-order espresso drinks.

It’s the country club without exclusion. Or as Ford says, “It’s the YMCA for the mind.” Whatever. It needs to go viral. But in real life.   

Maker House is open to the public, or you can become a $10-per-month member.


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