Leading up to the twentieth century, few social organizations existed, except for those of wealth or higher class, or working for a charitable organization. Most people attended a religious organization of some kind. Military veterans honored those who died in service, and fraternities were organized on college campuses to serve the needs of those both within the group and the greater community. As the United States became more urban, more clubs were organized among like-minded individuals looking for companionship outside of those they worshipped or worked with.
Los Angeles saw handfuls of clubs formed in the late 1890s-early 1900s. State groups, service groups like the Elks, Moose, Knights of Columbus, and Scottish Rite Masons, high end clubs like the Los Angeles and Hollywood Athletic Clubs, Jonathan Club, and City Club, these and more were organized as social opportunities to fill the hours when not working. Many served the community in charitable ways, while others simply served the cause of fun. The Los Angeles Breakfast Club was founded both to entertain and inform its members in 1925, and still operates as an active group 90 years later.
The Los Angeles Breakfast Club grew out of a group of friends weekly horseback ride and breakfast in Griffith Park. The men met at Al Meyer’s Griffith Park Riding Academy on Friday mornings for a ride into the park to a picturesque spot, where Marco Hellman and his chuck wagon served them a hearty breakfast. They eventually moved the breakfast to the stables, where one morning a guest, an eastern banker, regaled them with stories, and a group of Mexican artists serenaded them with music, per Harold B. Link’s early 1950s pamphlet, “The Los Angeles Breakfast Club.”
One of the members Maurice De Mond, proposed organizing a Breakfast Club, asking everyone to contribute $100. Word of mouth spread, with others soon joining them. The small band held their first meeting March 6, 1925 at the Riding Academy, where they elected De Mond president. The group quickly purchased a former dairy at 3213 Riverside Drive from John Crosetti, and began adapting it into a clubhouse. To pay for construction, the membership fee was increased to $500 a year in 1927, allowing to also build the Pavilion of Friendship.
The Los Angeles Breakfast Club was founded on the principles of sportsmanship and friendship, with each member taking turns serving as host and paying all costs for that breakfast. Men paid $10 a month to help defray costs. The group met as an informal gathering of friends with ritual slogans, sayings, and exercises, a silly and relaxing way to start the morning every Wednesday.
As described in the introduction to Link’s booklet, “The Los Angeles Breakfast Club…Not a Church, Not a Lodge, Not a Service Club, but the Shrine of Friendship…The story of the Club of Hospitality, the Democracy of Ham and Eggs, where everybody knows everybody, and everybody is just a “Ham” or an “Egg,” hailing each other…with the Grand Salute: “Hello Ham!” and “Hello Egg!” to the accompaniment of a friendly handclasp, after which they “turn the eggs over!”
Besides calling each other “Ham” or “Egg,” some members acted as roosters, occasionally letting out a “cockadoodleoo.” They opened each meeting with the saying,
“Oh you ham!
Oh you egg!
We’ll tell the world that we all like ham.
But ham without egg isn’t worth a dam.”
They then clasped their neighbor by the neck for the second phrase, “Sea, sea, sea oh why are you angry with me?
If I once reach the the shore
I shall say an revor (sic)
To the sea, sea, sea.”
Posted on the wall was the phrase, “Shrine of Friendship where real people meet.” New members initiated into the club were asked to sit on a toy hobby horse and put their hand into a plate of eggs, all in the spirit of fun and friendship. The January 23, 1928 New York Sun called the group, a “glad hand institution.” Inspiring talks closed out the meetings.
In 1928, the Los Angeles Breakfast Club incorporated as a stock company, at 100 shares to each member, with some buying additional blocks of stock. Civic and social leaders joined the fellowship, such as Edward Doheny, Rufus Von KleinSmid, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Earl C. Anthony, and Gilbert Beesemyer. Entertainment industry professionals such as Joseph Schenck, Louis B. Mayer, Carl Laemmle, Jesse Lasky, Cecil B. DeMille, the Warner Brothers, Tom Mix, and Lewis Stone joined in the fun. The expanding membership allowed them to purchase the adjoining Charles Moult property for $40,000 and build a stable for the Breakfast Club Rangers.
The initiation of Mark Larkin into the Breakfast Club.
Distinguished speakers from the world of politics, entertainment, culture, and sports addressed the group. In June 1930, the group arranged the first reunion of “Birth of a Nation” cast members, including director D. W. Griffith, Henry Walthall, Mae Marsh, Donald Crisp, Spottiswoode Aitken, Joseph Henabery, Walter Long, and Elmer Clifton. In the 1930s and 1940s, such people as Ben Lyons and Bebe Daniels, Mayer, Wylie Post, Harry Chandler, Robert Sherwood, Burroughs, Dale Carnegie, Father Flanagan, Rev. Billy Graham, Babe Ruth, Bill Tilden, Red Grange, Captain Louis Zamperini, Lt. Audie Murphy, Mayor Fletcher Bowron, Governor elect Earl Warren, and California Senator William G. McAdoo spoke, and such individuals and groups as the Trojan and Bruin bands, Mitchell Boy Choir,Rudy Vallee, Guy Lombardo, Vienna Boys Choir, Leo Carrillo, Bill Robinson, Deanna Durbin, Grace Moore, Sophie Tucker, Gene Autry, James Gleason, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. performed.
Thanks to its list of distinguished speakers, KFWB began broadcasting the weekly meetings on a “sustaining basis” at 8 am, providing it free as a public service.
The radio station provided full coverage of former President Coolidge’s appearance at the Breakfast Club in early February, 1930, which was captured for the “Voice of Hollywood” newsreel. S. L. “Roxy” Rothafel of New York was inducted as a member on September 12, 1932.
As with other organizations, the Los Angeles Breakfast Club suffered financial setbacks during the Depression. They discovered after founder De Mond’s death in 1931 that his estate owned a controlling interest in the stock, and that $83,000 was outstanding on the mortgages and their part in the widening of Riverside Drive. The property was foreclosed and De Mond’s estate threatened to sue if the club took furniture or articles out of the building.
Manager Harold B. Link arranged with the Ambassador Hotel to move the meeting to the Old English Inn on the property. At the same time, the group decided it was finally wise to reestablish themselves as a nonprofit as they continued meeting. The Los Angeles Times even wrote about them in 1932, “Famed in song and story, it is internationally known because of the celebrities, entertainers, and the “stunts” through which they are hosts.”
On January 24, 1934, the California Secretary of State certified the Los Angeles Breakfast Club as a nonprofit. They made the decision to try and buy the debts of the original club out of bankruptcy from the De Mond estate. Member J. J. Sugerman paid $4,025 for the Club name, all goods, chattel, and furniture. Nine members contributed $500 each to pay him back within six months.
A meeting of the Breakfast Club, as shown in Life magazine, Nov. 22, 1943.
The reconstituted Los Angeles Breakfast Club bought a tract of land at 3201 Riverside Drive adjacent to the old clubhouse on July 27, 1936. Their contract A. D. Chisholm suggested a California ranch-style clubhouse costing $50,000 to build. A film studio sketch artist designed a four page brochure which was distributed to members June 14, 1937, and by the middle of August, five members pooled $25,000 to purchase the first mortgage, followed by contributions by the rest totaling $50,000.
Laying the cornerstone September 18, 1937, the club began a quick construction process. The May Company provided ranch style furnishings on December 26, 1937 with price tags attached that members could subscribe to purchase for the organization. By the club’s opening on December 29, all furniture was paid for. 1000 people attended the grand opening, where Dr. Von KleinSmid delivered the property to the club, assisted by public officials like California Governor Merriam, Los Angeles Mayor Frank Shaw, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and the President of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. The club could sit 600 people inside and 1500 people on the outside patio. The Breakfast Bridge Club, under the leadership of Mrs. Harold Link, paid for the pool, fountain, and retaining wall.
To help pay bills and defray costs, the club rented out their facilities for proms, dinners, studio meetings, dances, and the like for groups such as movie studios, government entities, high schools, and private clubs. Almost every night of the week, some event took place at the facility.
Sir Tommy Lipton rides the Breakfast Club’s wooden horse, Charleston Daily Mail, Jan. 13, 1928.
The Breakfast Club served charity interests, aided by celebrities. Daily Variety reported on December 18, 1942 that Jackie Cooper, dressed up as Santa Claus, passed out Christmas gifts to needy children at the club, the eleventh year in a row he had served. Dr. A. H. Giannini, founder of Bank of America, was honored August 19, 1941 for his distinguished service to the community. On November 19, 1949, Robert Young, Adolphe Menjou, and others attended an Armistice Ball for Jewish War veterans. Pat O’Brien served as emcee of the AFRA dinner and dance in the summer of 1950.
By the 1950s and 1960s however, the club began experiencing a decline in membership, as fewer people joined clubs, many from working longer hours, others concentrating more on their kids, and others finding them old fashioned.
To help their finances, the group sold the land to the Department of Recreation and Parks in 1965 and built a one story clubhouse, gaining a 50 year lease at the cost of $1 a year.
Membership continued shrinking into the 1980s, so the group dropped initiation fees, trying to entice more to join. The Los Angeles Breakfast Club now numbered 250 people with an average of 65. Women had been allowed to finally join in 1978, with the first woman elected president in 1986. They continued their charity work as well, hosting the Permanent Charities Walk-A-Thon for several years in the 1980s. By the early 2000s, the club was struggling to survive.
Thanks to young, active leadership, the Los Angeles Breakfast Club is once again on the rise, holding their weekly Wednesday breakfasts at 7 am, followed by intriguing talks at 8. Guests are welcome to come enjoy the friendship and fellowship of the group, as well as a chance to be edified by the speakers. Attendees can enjoy a hearty repast of ham and eggs, as they great each other with the clasp of friendship, one ham or egg to the other!