Community beautifier, social service agent, educator, historian, and protector, the Woman’s Club of Hollywood has served its community for 110 years, working to make Hollywood a better place. Following the dictums of the City Beautiful movement, the organization worked to beautify and uplift the small town, hoping to increase civic, moral, and personal virtue through educational and civic events.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the little town of Hollywood was slowly becoming more urban: immigrants arrived, mass transit was introduced, churches multiplied, and merchants opened businesses to serve the many farmers and ranchers surrounding the community. Population boomed, dwarfing city services. Organizations sprang up to serve the social, educational, and entertainment needs of the population.
More educated and well-to-do women looked for a way to employ their knowledge and skills in ways to both better their community and grow as individuals. The best way to achieve these ends was to form a Woman’s Club to edify, nurture, and serve themselves and others.
Edwin O. Palmer’s excellent “The History of Hollywood” documents the founding of the Woman’s Club. He describes about 20 women meeting at the home of Mrs. P. B. Chase on April 15, 1905 to discuss the situation. “The ladies calling the meeting had in mind the organization of a woman’s club to take up any work that serves and advances towards the establishment of a public library. Electing temporary officers, they set a meeting for May 1 at 3 pm at the home of Mrs. Andrew Grobe to discuss the details of organizing a club and founding a library.
Confident and ambitious women met that afternoon to draft a constitution for their organization. This constitution stated the club’s purpose to be “the up building of the social, intellectual, and civic life of Hollywood, and its specific and immediate work to the establishment of a public library in the city of Hollywood.” On May 15, more than 50 members elected Mrs. J. O. Churchill, President, Mrs. W. O. Jackson, Vice President, Mrs. Robert Young, Treasurer, and Miss Margaret Higgins, Secretary.
The Los Angeles Herald noted on May 7 that the club’s main focus was to assist the establishment and building of a library, but that they would also concentrate on regular club work. They issued an invitation for like-minded women to join them in this cause, noting how quickly their numbers had swelled.
Jayne Mansfield at the Woman’s Club, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
The new Woman’s Club established a library committee to organize the nuts and bolts of fundraising, promoting, and building a library, electing Mrs. L. B. Wilcox, Mrs. Andrew Grobe, Mrs. W. C. Parcher, Mrs. T. R. Cromwell, and Miss Sarah Simpson to head these efforts. They threw their first public reception June 19, 1905 at the Hotel Hollywood to rally and cement public support for establishing and building a library. They asked each attending couple to either bring a book to donate or give money towards purchasing one. 203 books and $15 were donated that night, per the June 21, 1905 Los Angeles Times.
Fundraising continued. The group organized a minstrel show at Wilcox Hall on December 5, 1905 in conjunction with the Los Angeles Business Men as another fundraiser, earning over $200 that night. A temporary library opened December 1, 1905 in two rooms of the Van Syckle Building, south of the Wilcox Building on Cahuenga. Palmer relates in his book that Mrs. H. G. Candee donated 150 book from the late James W. Somers’ library, and Mrs. Keys donated 30 volumes of Bancroft’s History. The facility was opened to public December 3, with 619 volumes available to read, along with Atlantic, Harper’s, and Scribner’s magazines.
A few days later, Mrs. Mary Moll offered a possible Christmas gift to the city: two sites from which to choose where to construct a library, with the conditions being it cost more than $10,000 and be erected within two years, per the December 23, 1905 Los Angeles Times. The Library’s trustees stated that they would consult the Los Angeles Business Men and the Woman’s Club before proceeding, and decided not to accept the offer. Fundraising continued.
In partnership with the Board of Trade, Library trustees established a committee which secured $10,000 from Andrew Carnegie for library construction, if the city maintained “a free public library at a cost of not less than $1,000 a year” by the city and donate an appropriate site, per Palmer’s “History of Hollywood.” Dr. Palmer suggested Mrs. Daieda Beveridge donate land at the Northwest corner of Prospect Avenue and Ivar Avenue, and construction began. On February 1, 1906, the Hollywood Public Library, a lovely one-story, English-style building, began lending books to the public.
On April 18, 1906, the Trustees of the city of Hollywood passed an ordinance establishing a Public Library with “trustees authorizing the Library Board to offer the Woman’s Club the basement of the building for their meetings…” until they found an appropriate clubhouse, all in recognition of their integral work in completing such a project.
While the Woman’s Club pursued good works, they also met to meet the educational and social needs of their members. They offered edifying programs, art exhibits, and concerts as well as weekly meetings with talks. Over the years, people such as Carrie Jacobs Bond, John McGroarty, Edward R. Curtis, Jim Tully, Mary Pickford, and Gloria Swanson attended events or spoke to the group.
The group also worked to better the city in other ways. They organized a “civic house cleaning day” in Hollywood March 6, 1908, in which residents were urged to clean house, sweep streets, empty and cover trash receptacles, as well as help clear yards and empty lots of trash, in order to beautify their town. Around the same time, Woman’s Club members took over empty lots from the city they rented to those unemployed or in need, which were planted with barley. The group got involved with the Russian settlement on Utah Street and the Utah Street Maternity Ward, as well as seeing that a mission bell was hung at the Campo de Cahuenga site. Their aim was to keep Hollywood in the fore front of clean, organized, and helping communities.
The Woman’s Club of Hollywood helped sponsor the 1907 floral festival, which took over three months to plan exhibits, a parade, tilting tournament, and ball. According to papers, this was the largest exhibition of amateur flower growers in the country. Ornamental plants, rare, hothouse, and cut flowers were all exhibited, along with an exhibit put together by Hollywood youth. Over $200 was netted from proceedings, but the group decided not to proceed with the event due to difficulties in organizing such events.
On September 23, 1909, the Woman’s Club combined with the Board of Trade to celebrate the opening of downtown Los Angeles’ First Street tunnel with a large reception on the grounds of celebrated artist Paul de Longpre, drawing hundreds.
As the group grew in number, they overwhelmed the small basement of the library, and Mrs. Beveridge donated a bungalow at Cahuenga and Franklin in which the Woman’s Club could meet until building their own clubhouse.
Mrs. J.F. Mead, from Holly Leaves, 1922.
In 1912, under the leadership of Mrs. Cassius Smith, the group purchased a lot east of La Brea at 7078 Hollywood for $4500 on which to finally build their own clubhouse. Architect A. R. Kelly designed the classic looking building, per the April 17, 1914 Southwest Contractor and Builder magazine, which cost $13,000 to construct. The group laid the cornerstone June 3, 1914 per the June 4, 1914 Los Angeles Times. Over 300 members and guests heard Carrie Jacobs Bond sing her world famous song, “A Perfect Day” and hear the High School band perform marches, before all joined in singing “America.” Mrs. Smith dedicated the building “to every woman in Hollywood,” noting that it stood for “up building and betterment of home, school, district, and state, and thus a better universe.” They would allow such groups as their Junior Auxiliary, the Apollo Club, the Children’s Chorus, and others to meet there without charge.
Over the next several decades, the Woman’s Club worked to reduce unemployment, planted trees around the city, formed a junior auxiliary, sold government bonds, helped organize Armistice Day events, worked with the Morals Efficiency Agency, Juvenile Protective Association, Children’s Hospital, Orthopedic Hospital, Social Service Committee, and raised funds for the Red Cross and war efforts, both World War I and II. The group supported building a subway in Hollywood in 1917. They were instrumental in organizing the Pilgrimage Play in 1922, and in setting up the Hollywood Bowl. The Woman’s Club donated towards a new Hollywood hospital in 1926 and gave money to help buy and preserve the native redwood forests from destruction in the late 1920s-early 1930s.
The group always worked to beautify the city. Besides planting trees, they improved the area surrounding their clubhouse, creating a small park area and playground, which they donated to the city. The Woman’s Club also worked to clear blight like billboards. Mrs. Rollin B. Lane, President of the Club in 1917 told the Times, “Our club stands firmly committed against the billboards’ encroachment,” feeling they marred the landscape and destroyed the look of residential areas.
By 1921, the club had outgrown their meeting room, and constructed a large auditorium behind their clubhouse in the Italian Renaissance style with cast iron and stucco to seat 750 people on the first floor and 250 on the second, all facing a 25’ x 48’ stage, designed by renowned architects, Walker and Eisen and costing $65,000. The group held concerts, exhibits, lectures, and other special events at their new facility, as well as hosting their own Woman’s Club Chorus.
The Woman’s Club, via Google Street View.
Other groups rented the gorgeous, perfectly located space to also hold events. Greg Williams notes in his book, “The Story of Hollywood” that various community orchestras and choruses, such as the Hollywood Community Chorus and Hollywood Community Orchestra performed for the public in the luxurious hall. The Catholic Motion Picture Guild and Equity met here in 1925. The Screen Actors Guild held early committee meetings and gatherings here, including proxy voting and their election in February 1934. Along with SAG, the Screen Directors Guild held regular meetings here about how to organize and fight to gain studio recognition as they fought for better wages and conditions. The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists met here in 1937 to adopt their minimum wage guidelines.
People around the country noted their good works and the work they did in preserving the beauty and look of Hollywood. Motion Picture Magazine printed a story by Mrs. F. L. Fausch of Evansville, Illinois describing Hollywood in January 1929, where she praised the Woman’s Club of Hollywood. “This little organization is one of the finest of its kind in the United States. Its particular aim is to save Hollywood for Hollywood. Save the palms and flowers. Keep the hills green in place of dotting them with bungalows…It has saved the beauty that was already here and left Hollywood a very quaint, distinctive, charming little city.”
Unfortunately the loans they obtained to construct the theatre and clubhouse weighed them down financially, though they were finally able to burn their mortgage in the 1940s. Membership was declining as more women worked. It was decided to sell the Hollywood Boulevard property in 1946 to the United 16mm Society and construct a smaller one on La Brea Ave. which could also serve as community center, on the same property as the Hollywood School for Girls, which they had supported from the beginning. On July 21, 1948 at 3 pm, they broke ground at 1749 N. La Brea Ave. after meeting at Hollywood Congregational Church. They raised and spent $150,000 to purchase land and construct the clubhouse designed by Arthur Harvey.
The Woman’s Club of Hollywood celebrated the opening of their new clubhouse with such guests as County Supervisor John Anson Ford, Mayor Bowron, Sheriff Biscailuz, and John D. Kingsley, President of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, who all took part in the 1948 groundbreaking ceremonies. After the groundbreaking at three, tea was served at 4, a buffet at 6, and then dancing.
The Woman’s Club of Hollywood still survives all these decades later, even overcoming issues with disgruntled and ill-informed members. They still serve the public and open their club for community events regularly as they continue the founders’ aim of beautifying and edifying the city of Hollywood.