James Makin and a group of northside residents founded the Riviera Club in 1933 to provide low-cost private recreational facilities for families. Popularly known as “The Rivi,” the club is located at 5640 North Illinois Street, on a 21-acre triangle of land between the White River and the Central Canal.

Children play in an outdoor pool with a central slide. Chairs line the edge of the pool and a pool house with arched entrys is in the background.
Riviera Club, August 1961 Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

The club’s recreational facilities are highlighted by its five swimming pools. The main pool is one of the largest in the nation with ten 50-meter lanes and five 25-yard lanes. Major pool renovations in 2018, 2019, and 2020 eliminated a diving tank that was added in 1957 and replaced it with a 13-foot dive well with 1-meter and 3-meter diving boards.

The U.S.A. Swimming accredited swim program, coached by several nationally acclaimed coaches, including Johnny Galvich and Gene Lee, has brought national exposure to the club. Its rich swimming history has produced four Olympic gold medalists and many other competitors in the Pan American Games, the Amateur Athletic Union (Aau), and college-level swimming. Most notable are Kathy Ellis, who won four medals at the 1964 Olympics, and Trischa Zorn who won 46 medals in the Paralympics between 1980 and 2004.

In 1974, Riviera Club member Reverend Robert Bates of Indianapolis and Reverend Michael Woodward of Chicago filed a federal lawsuit under Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act against the Riviera Club when Woodward, an African American, was denied entry to the pool as Bates’ guest. They charged the club with discrimination against Blacks and challenged its status as a private club. The case was finally heard six years later in October 1980 and settled on October 23, 1980, with the Riviera Club disbanding the existing membership committee, selecting a new membership committee, publicizing a new policy of openness to all races, forfeiting the “right to interview prospective members” with in-person interviews, and saying it would give Blacks “equal consideration” as members.

The Riviera Club is a not-for-profit recreational and social club supported by its 2,200 member families. Membership is open to people “without regard to gender, religion, or ethnic background.” The club attracts most of its membership from the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood and surrounding area.

Revised February 2021

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