The Capital Yacht Club (CYC) was formed on October 19, 1892, by nine yachtsmen who met on the naphtha-powered launch ALERT in order to hire a watchman to keep an eye on their vessels anchored in the newly formed Washington Channel. This was not long after the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) had begun a massive dredging project that created East Potomac Park, the Tidal Basin and created many of the features of the Southwest Waterfront that we are familiar with today. The Southwest Waterfront, known as the “Sixth Street Wharf” since the time of the Civil War, was a working seaport with fish wharfs, municipal piers for tobacco and farm produce, numerous ice and coal docks, towing companies and coastal steamship wharfs projecting into the channel.
CYC’s first facility was converted from a coal scow to a two-level clubhouse known as THE ARK that was moored on the Washington Channel at the foot of Ninth Street beginning in 1894. By 1900 the club had grown to 30 members and leased property at 700 Water Street where they built a 1½ story wooden building. The club continued to grow, and in 1922 CYC moved into a new clubhouse near Ninth Street. This building was a classic yacht club with peaked roof, cupola and second story balcony with facilities that also included a marine railway!
From its inception, CYC was heavily involved with racing, holding several regattas each year. CYC was a charter member of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association (CBYRA) that began informally in 1906 and was incorporated in 1910. Racing was occasionally interrupted by war, but little else had any effect.
There was some effort in the 1940’s by the ACOE to develop the Southwest Waterfront; in 1942, CYC was able to lease the newly built Yacht Basin Number 2. This gave CYC 82 berths and some additional space for small boats. To promote further development, Congress created the Redevelopment Land Agency (RLA) in 1945 which had a major part in changing the Southwest Waterfront. In 1960, Public Law 86-736 transferred ownership of the Southwest Waterfront to the RLA. Early development plans put CYC at great risk because they called for the removal of all CYC facilities, creating a continuous seawall and promenade. Unfortunately, this meant filling in most of Yacht Basin Number 2, thus reducing the CYC dock facilities from 82 to 58 slips in 1967. CYC membership declined considerably since there appeared to be no future for the club.
In 1967 Public Law 90-176 provided CYC and other waterfront businesses a chance to continue operation and to participate in the planned redevelopment.
But by 1969 CYC membership had dwindled to only 17 members. In May 1969 the classic CYC clubhouse and home for 47 years was torn down. Fortunately, the first of the new CYC riparian leases was signed in June 1969 and the lease for a shore-side parcel of land on which to build a new clubhouse was secured in 1970. The new clubhouse was completed in 1973 and interest in CYC membership gradually revived with the prospect of having a restaurant and a clubhouse.
By 1980 there were 110 active and life members and 600 associate members, many of whom only patronized the restaurant. Unfortunately, Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) was planning to build a new Metro tunnel for the Yellow Line directly below the CYC docks. This required CYC members to move their vessels temporarily to a neighboring marina while the old docks were removed and the metro tunnel completed. Fortunately, WMATA also installed new docks with approximately 79 slips and the CYC fleet was able to return beginning in October 1982.
1984 marked both the first CYC police/firefighter picnic and the first time the second floor of the clubhouse was leased to a public restaurant. Le Rivage operated on the second floor for 18 years. Jenny’s Asian Fusion Restaurant and Lounge replaced Le Rivage in 2003 and operated there until 2015, when the Capital Yacht Club was temporarily relocated to make way for construction of The Wharf.
Another phase of redevelopment of Southwest Waterfront began in 2014, renamed The Wharf in honor of its historic designation by generations of Washingtonians. CYC members worked closely with developers and the District of Columbia with the hope of preserving the past while creating a “true urban destination where maritime activity and commerce mix with culture and housing to create a vibrant waterfront community.”
CYC continues to thrive as an active part of the Southwest Waterfront community with a membership of approximately 168 active, 4 associate, 47 community, 25 life, and 16 cruising members. In past years, CYC has hosted numerous Easter Seals Cruises for Kids, Patriot’s Picnics for wounded veterans, and the Leukemia Cup Regatta activities. The club is actively involved in the greater Southwest neighborhood through its outreach via the Community Chest. CYC makes its facilities available to the USCG Auxiliary, National Maritime Heritage Foundation and other community groups.
In 2002 the DC City Council formally recognized CYC for its 110 years of “preservation and progress for America’s National Waterfront and its long-standing service and participation in the SW Waterfront community.” As the Capital Yacht Club looks its future, it does so with a continued sense of community spirit, belonging, and excitement.