The Studio Club in Photoplay, 1917.
Note: This is an encore post from 2013.
T he advent of the 20th century offered the possibility of more freedom and opportunity for women. For decades, women had advocated for the right to vote, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Others clamored for more work opportunities beyond teaching, librarian, and secretarial positions.
The relatively new medium of motion pictures also tantalized audiences with many new possibilities beyond their hometowns: exciting new cities, novel hobbies and recreations, and modern employment opportunities. In fact, many people considered the growing film industry itself an excellent field to try their luck, especially movie-struck, naïve young women.
Innocent young girls descended on Hollywood in the mid-teens from Midwestern farming communities, small Southern towns and large cities, hoping to be discovered by film folks. For the first time, many young women independently traveled west to California with their meager savings seeking out opportunity in glamorous Hollywood. As their money slowly dwindled, many hung around libraries and other respectable locations.
Mrs. Eleanor Jones of the Hollywood Public Library began noticing many young women staying until closing time. Many had nowhere to go and no friends or family to spend time or live with. Jones began befriending them and trying to help them. A young girl whom Mrs. Jones regularly noticed sitting alone in the library disappeared one day, and then reappeared more than a month later. When Jones asked where she had been, she replied that she had spent a month in the hospital with no visitors. Soon after, as she realized that she had no prospects in Hollywood, she returned home.
Jones approached Mrs. W. Richmond, Mrs. William De Mille and Lois Weber and they started a drama club in the library called the Hollywood Studio Club. When the Young Women’s Christian Assn. heard about the club, it offered a dancing teacher, with many new classes quickly added. Attendance soon outgrew the small space. The large attendance convinced local businessmen to advance $1,500 for a year’s rental on a large two-story Colonial building at 6129 Carlos Ave., the former home of the Hollywood Military Academy, as a clubhouse offering classes and get-together opportunities. Any girl connected with the film industry could join as a member and take classes, but when a few of the young women mentioned that they had no place to live, they were invited in.
In 1916, the YWCA International Institute leased the home, and the Hollywood Studio Club officially became a residence hall with 80 paid members, with many more hoping to get in. The Nov. 14, 1916, Moving Picture World noted in an article that it was the third YWCA Club home for girls after ones in New York and Paris, and the “only one in existence for motion picture girls.”
Celebrities such as Lois Weber, Dorothy Davenport, and Tsuru Aoki, Mrs. Sessue Hayakawa, visited on Sundays, and studios held regular teas for the girls. Many classes were offered beyond acting and dancing, including scenario writing, makeup, pantomime, gymnastics and first aid. Girls could enjoy the large gardens, sitting on the front porch or welcoming guests.
T he YWCA quickly struggled to pay the bills. It offered dances on Friday nights with young men welcomed to attend. Entertainers and studios presented theatrical productions, musical performances and other fundraisers. In December 1916, the Lasky Feature Play Co. players presented the first fundraising performance, giving many more over the years. Lasky players Helen Jerome Eddy, a former resident, Lillian Leighton, Laurence Tibbett, Mabel Van Buren, Clarence Geldart and George Hackathorne presented “The Tragedy of Nan” in February 1918 in the building’s auditorium. A live nativity was presented Dec. 22, 1919, in an amphitheatre arranged on the front lawn, with Frank Keenan as narrator, Eddy as Mary, Walter Long as Herod, and Lionel Belmore as one of the Wise Men.
Film journalist Rob Wagner in his 1918 book “Film Folk; Closeups of the Men, Women and Children Who Make the Movies,” spoke with an industry leader who called the Hollywood Studio Club a “godsend to the kids who have no place to go except to bat round the town. We have teas, garden parties, studio dances, and all kinds of stunts that bring the bunch together, and if a girl gets down on her luck, she can stay at the club until she lands on her feet again.”
The local YWCA approached studios and film folk like Mary Pickford for help in purchasing the property in 1919 to provide additional living space. In newspaper stories, residents mentioned that it was basically a sorority with film atmosphere, giving them a sense of home life, protection and assistance. There were few rules beyond living and acting with good taste and manners. Girls paid membership fees of $5, $10, $25, $50 and $100, allowing them a place to live and access to the dining room, gymnasium, classes and the like. The club offered additional classes as well: art, embroidery, exercise, remodeling clothes and dramatics, along with the Sunday teas, monthly dances, and camping and beach trips.
During these early years, actresses such as Helen Jerome Eddy, Carmel Myers, Mildred Harris, Marjorie Daw and Louise Huff lived at the club, along with writer Sarah Mason and Paramount secretary Anne Bauchens.
Demand quickly outgrew the space, and by 1923 a group led by Mrs. Cecil B. DeMille, Mrs. Jesse Lasky, Mrs. Charles Christie and others bought property from Seward Cole at 1215 Lodi Place and Lexington Avenue on which to erect a new home at a cost of $150,000. Famed Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan designed a building along “Spanish, Italian and French lines, with some of the warm colors of the Moorish,” with central patio, library, two reception rooms, private dining room, large dining room, stage, practice rooms, writing and makeup rooms, and 66 single and double bedrooms with their own lavatories.
The YWCA sold the Carlos Avenue property to St. Stephens Episcopal Church for use as a parish hall to buy the Lodi Place property and began a fund drive to construct the new building. They also sought pledges for furniture, equipment and other necessities.
During the next two years, every studio donated funds. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson and Jackie Coogan gave $1,000 each, Florence Vidor, Lucien Littlefield, Jesse Lasky, Cecil B. DeMille, Will Hays and others gave large sums, Charles Ray allowed paid tours of the Mayflower reproduction at his new studio benefiting the club, and the gate from a special performance of “Robin Hood” at the Egyptian Theatre would benefit the club. Norma Talmadge donated the last $5,000 to reach the campaign target.
The YWCA held a grand dedication May 7, 1926, of the lush new facility, with each bedroom named for a contributor. The building quickly overflowed with residents; some were actresses, but most were affiliated with the motion picture industry in support or behind the scenes roles. An average of 93 lived in the 105-capacity home at one time. Most girls stayed for approximately six months, and many received assistance while unemployed.
Residents in the 1920s included future writer Ayn Rand, along with actresses Mae Busch, Janet Gaynor and Zasu Pitts.
Rates were lowered in 1932 during the Depression, from $13 a week to $7 a week for women ages 18-35. A June 11, 1932, ad in the Hollywood Filmograph noted, “Free use of lounge, patio, library, piano, radio, laundry, typewriter, and sewing machine.”
During World War II, the girls employed the empty lot next door for the “back-to-the farm” movement, raising fruit and vegetables they sold for funds to buy the property, aided by donations from Louis B. Mayer, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, George Cukor and Harry Warner. In May 1944, the USO constructed a building housing 1,000 servicewomen, operated as a guesthouse by the Hollywood Studio Club.
Costs continued rising after the war, with the YWCA needing help paying the bills in 1947. Donations coming from Joseph Schenck, Mae West, Joseph von Sternberg, Ernst Lubitsch, Mitchell Leisen and Budd Schulberg, among others, helped ease the burden. Thus began a several decade fight to earn enough money to keep the facility open. Former residents formed an alumni group in 1953 to help support the club, holding fundraisers and offering support.
Changing times and mores added financial pressures to the Hollywood Studio Club, with young women free to live independently and come and go as they pleased. Extramarital sex became more accepted. Governmental assistance and unemployment became available.
Though the club struggled financially, waves of girls continued flooding the building. Future celebrity residents included actresses Maureen O’Sullivan, Gail Patrick, Linda Darnell, Donna Reed, Evelyn Keyes, Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, Marie Windsor, Barbara Britton, Barbara Hale, Janet Blair, Dorothy Malone, Barbara Rush, Gale Storm, Rita Moreno, Nancy Kwan, Barbara Eden, Donna Douglas, Yvonne Craig, and Ann B. Davis, along with editor Dede Allen.
By 1970, the YWCA considered selling the Hollywood Studio Club, but residents fought to save it by holding fundraisers, asking for pledges, and the like. The YWCA allowed paying groups to hold meetings and classes in the rooms. It opened a small thrift shop to sell items. Former resident Rosemary Breckler wrote a March 3, 1975, letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times, speaking to how the building nourished young women. “The thing I remember most is the wonderful feeling we had of being cherished, loved, protected, guided, and assisted in our aspirations.”
After the club closed in 1976, the YWCA put some furnishings up for auction with Sotheby Parke Bernet in July 1977, and sold others in its thrift shop. In 1982, it donated some materials from the club to Cal State Northridge.
The lovely building stands forlornly at 1215 Lodi Place, ready to welcome eager new Hollywood residents.