Centennial Crossroads: La Jolla Woman’s Club marks 100 years by looking ahead to 100 more

By Ashley Mackin

As the La Jolla Woman’s Club prepares for its centennial in the historic Irving Gill building at 7791 Draper Ave. in October, club members are planning the next 100 years, and the many ways they can honor its mission and core values, while addressing contemporary needs.

In its infancy in the 1890s, La Jolla Woman’s Club meetings were held at members’ homes or local churches. By 1913, tired of the venue changes, member and La Jolla patroness Ellen Browning Scripps contracted architect Irving Gill to draw up plans for a permanent clubhouse. In October 1914, the first meeting was held in the “new” facility.

Although La Jolla Woman’s Club has been around for about 125 years, the building on Draper Avenue and Silverado Street will have its 100th birthday in October with a dinner planned for Oct. 17. Susan DeMaggio

Although La Jolla Woman’s Club has been around for about 125 years, the building on Draper Avenue and Silverado Street will have its 100th birthday in October with a dinner planned for Oct. 17. Susan DeMaggio

What started as a literary club and place for women to discuss current events evolved into a political hub, with members active in issues such as the right to vote, world war times, improving the lives of children, health and education.

And they continue to progress — so much so that the Clubhouse hosted its first lesbian wedding in mid-July. “It’s important for us to stay fresh and be open minded,” said House Director Pat McGill. “The ladies of the past would have a heart attack if they heard that, but we have evolved.”

Club President Mithu Sherin added, “We’ve asked ourselves what the next 100 years are going to be about, and we are still working on formulating that mission so it is congruent with our current and potential membership. I think we’ll take the next year or two to refine our vision.”

However, members know they want to take the core social and educational aspects at the club’s roots and modernize them for today’s women. The club currently offers its members monthly luncheons, bridge and book clubs and yoga classes.

To pay the bills, the building is marketed as a beautiful wedding venue. Hoping to bring monthly gatherings into the 21st century, one idea is to make the social hours in the evenings.
“A lot of women work now and can’t take an hour-and-a half off during the day for lunch,” Sherin said. “So we’re thinking of having after-work networking events. Today’s women today are busy and to attract those busy people, you have to offer something to them, such as networking opportunities (or discussions on issues of the day).”

The Club board is also considering offering open house hours in the evening. Currently, the open house hours are on Fridays and Saturdays.

Sherin also said she is exploring a new mom’s group. “I know there are groups in other states where new mothers can come together and talk with each other,” she said. “Whether they are a new mom or transitioning from having one child to multiple children, they can talk about things that are affecting them and learn from other mothers who have been there and know what they’re going through.”
Historian Merle Lotherington noted that having a diverse membership is important so different perspectives are available.

“Your life can change during the course of your membership,” she said. “You can go from a single working person to a married working person to a new mom, and someone will always be here who knows how you feel.”

To focus on the health and education aspect, held so dear to “Miss Ellen” Browning Scripps, the club’s board members are also exploring lectures and seminars pertinent to women’s wellbeing.

“We need to bring these issues to the forefront,” McGill said. “Our membership goes up as high as age 95, so health issues are crucial and need to be addressed.”

2014 Club President Mithu Sherin, Historian Merle Lotherington and House Director Pat McGill at the 100-year-old La Jolla Woman’s Club. Ashley Mackin

2014 Club President Mithu Sherin, Historian Merle Lotherington and House Director Pat McGill at the 100-year-old La Jolla Woman’s Club. Ashley Mackin

Sherin added there is a lot in the realm of women’s health that is not widely known, and with science and technology developing daily, there is always more to learn. As an example, she said she only recently discovered that drug dosages are not formulated differently for men and women — and they should be.

“Drugs are tested for men’s bodies. The FDA never required drug-makers look at the differences in metabolism and how men’s bodies and women’s bodies might react to the same dosage,” she said. “It was shocking to me that you would get a drug approved without considering women’s biology and metabolism.”
With this focus, Lotherington said they are “honoring Miss Ellen’s vision.” Noting the plethora of health experts that might be available through UCSD, Sherin said the evening lecture series would help bring people through the doors in the future.

Second Vice President Michelle Talcott insisted that once people do visit the building, they would want to come back. “There is a special mystique about this place,” she said.

But it isn’t always easy to maintain. Over the last 30 years, the club’s focus has been having enough in the coffer through memberships and weddings to keep the doors open and the lights on.

Sherin said that although brides appreciate the sense of privacy from the high walls and foliage-covered fences, having the building pseudo-hidden also hides it from potential visitors or members.
“People think this is a private club or someone’s house,” she said.

To ease the stress of building maintenance, the board is considering establishing a foundation — with a separate board — and applying for 501(c)(3) non-profit status. Should they have a separate fund for maintenance costs, they could focus other monies on whatever members deem important.

With a current membership of about 120, Talcott, who is in charge of increasing the fold, noted, “We want to open our club doors to the women in La Jolla, get them in here so they can become members and help carry on the mission and be a part of the next 100 years.”

For events information, call Sharlene Thompson at (858) 454-2354.

womans-club-plaque-245x300Woman’s Club Anniversary Dinner
■ To toast the building’s centennial and attract new members, the Woman’s Club will host a dinner 5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17 (almost 100 years to the day of the first meeting at the clubhouse, Oct. 5, 1914) with music, a speaker and slideshow. Tickets will go on sale in late August at LaJollaWomansClub.com or e-mail anniversary@LaJollaWomansClub.com
To Join La Jolla Woman’s Club
■ Attend two events
■ Be sponsored by a current member
■ Pay annual dues of $50
■ Call Andrea Mau at (858) 273-0407

La Jolla Cultural Zone goes on view Nov. 3

The third annual “Open Doors” tour of the historic La Jolla Cultural Zone will be held 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3.

This free event showcases the heritage and history of the buildings within the Cultural Zone, and the organizations residing there. The open house-style tour offers the public an opportunity to explore the inside of buildings people may not otherwise have a chance to view.

The La Jolla Woman's Club was built in 1913. Courtesy.

The La Jolla Woman’s Club was built in 1913. Courtesy.

Participating organizations include master architect Irving Gill’s Cubist-style Bed & Breakfast Inn at La Jolla (featuring art, appetizers and live entertainment in the garden); the Cuvier Club (originally a World War II USO hall, featuring snacks by Abbey Catering Co.); La Jolla Recreation Center (Irving Gill); La Jolla Woman’s Club (Irving Gill, featuring Molly McClain, biographer of Ellen Browning Scripps, benefactor of buildings within the Cultural Zone); Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (free museum admission, tours at 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.); and St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church (pipe organ demonstrations).

The Bishop’s School and La Jolla Historical Society campuses, both usually on the tour, are undergoing renovations. The Bishop’s School will offer information about its architecture at La Jolla Rec Center, while the historical society will feature its ongoing exhibit, “Scripps on Prospect: Evolution of Villa and Cottage” in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Axline Court. For more details, call (858) 459-3421 or e-mail opendoorslajolla@cuviaclub.com

La Jolla Woman’s Club’s charming building to reach its centennial in 2014

La Jolla Woman’s Club treasurer Noreen Haygood, longtime member Carol Lukase and House Director Pat McGill

La Jolla Woman’s Club treasurer Noreen Haygood, longtime member Carol Lukase and House Director Pat McGill

La Jolla Woman’s Club
■ Members: 175
■ Dues: $50 a year
■ Perks: Monthly luncheon with lectures and cultural presentations, card games, book club, yoga instruction and more
■ Membership information: lajollawomansclub.org or (858) 454-2354

By Pat Sherman
The La Jolla Woman’s Club will observe the centennial of its historic clubhouse and grounds at the corner of Draper Avenue and Silverado Street next year — and its members have a lot of history to celebrate.
Founded in 1894 by seven women as a reading club, it was clear early on that club members wouldn’t sit idly rehashing Jane Austen romances (though they may have relished her works now and again).
Guest speakers included women such as author and political activist Helen Keller and suffragist and women’s rights activist Lucy Stone (reportedly the first recorded American woman to retain her father’s surname after marriage).

On Dec. 3, 1913 the cornerstone is laid into place for the future La Jolla Woman’s Club, which was funded by Ellen Browning Scripps and finished the following year. Courtesy La Jolla Historical Society

On Dec. 3, 1913 the cornerstone is laid into place for the future La Jolla Woman’s Club, which was funded by Ellen Browning Scripps and finished the following year. Courtesy La Jolla Historical Society

Change was coming to the sparsely populated Village of La Jolla (including the founding of a post office and the addition of the La Jolla Railway). With an increase in visitors and residents came an increase in the exchange of ideas.

Chief among them for La Jolla women was the right to vote and to have legal custody of their children. The club would advocate tirelessly for both these issues during its inception, and particularly after newspaper heiress and philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps took the reins as president, first from 1901 to 1904, and again, from 1909 to 1910.

“Ellen Browning Scripps’ idea of the Woman’s Club was that it should be a center for educational, cultural, intellectual, artistic, moral and social betterment,” said current club treasurer Noreen Haygood. “I think it was started as a response to all the men’s fraternal organizations that were happening at that time, and, of course, women didn’t have anything like that.”

Following her second term as president, Scripps would go on to pay for the club’s permanent building on Draper Avenue — the first of many La Jolla landmarks she would fund, including the adjacent La Jolla Rec Center and The Bishop’s School.

Woman’s Club members attired for a performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ circa 1920. Courtesy La Jolla Historical Society

Woman’s Club members attired for a performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ circa 1920. Courtesy La Jolla Historical Society

During its early years, the club was also influential in local and national politics, influencing legislation in support of child labor laws, milk pasteurization and the protection of the state’s redwood trees and national forests. The club also advocated for allowing women to join the board of education and for programs in public schools benefiting children with disabilities.

“There is a terrific amount of admiration and respect for the pioneers of Ellen Browning Scripps’ generation, as well as the ones who came later in the ’60s and ’70s,” Haygood said.

As women gained the right to vote and the country slowly adopted a more egalitarian view of women’s roles in society, the La Jolla Woman’s Club evolved into more of a social club, offering regular monthly luncheons, bridge games and yoga classes.

The club usually meets the first Monday of the month, from October to June. Members include residents from as far as Coronado and Bonita.

To keep the club vital, current co-president Kathy Stewart-Schwan is hoping to attract younger, professional women by offering wine and cheese parties and other business-related mixers.

The club ballroom is rented for events, which helps pay for maintenance of the building. The wood flooring was recently replaced. Pat Sherman

The club ballroom is rented for events, which helps pay for maintenance of the building. The wood flooring was recently replaced. Pat Sherman

“We’re just beginning to explore that,” said Stewart-Schwan, a retired Presbyterian pastor and La Jolla High graduate who returned to La Jolla several years ago to be with her mother, Margie Stewart (a longtime club member and the first female to serve on the executive board of the La Jolla Town Council).

Today, the La Jolla Woman’s Club is probably best known for its architecture.

The building is a classic example of Irving Gill’s pioneering modern style, represented by simple geometrical shapes, multiple arches and columns, and a minimum of ornamentation and frills — a style often described as “shaved Spanish,” in reference to Southern California’s colonial Spanish architecture and missions. “We probably have an architect a week come through here,” said the club’s executive director, Sharlene Thompson.

“A couple of weeks ago I had a man who came from Switzerland (to tour the property) with another architect who met him here.”

However, maintaining an architectural marvel and national historic landmark is a constant struggle.

Woman’s Club members pose for posterity in this photo taken during the 1980s. Courtesy La Jolla Historical Society

Woman’s Club members pose for posterity in this photo taken during the 1980s. Courtesy La Jolla Historical Society

“It’s like feeding the beast,” House Director Pat McGill said. “As soon as one thing gets fixed, another thing breaks down.”

The property’s upkeep is largely funded by renting the facility for weddings and special events, Thompson said.

“The American Chemical Society’s first woman president came here for a lecture and a reception,” she said. “The following year they elected a new woman president, and they came out from Washington, D.C. both times.”

Last year the Association for Women in Science held its gala at the Woman’s Club.

However, McGill noted, with the downturn in the economy wedding parties aren’t spending as much money as they once did, reducing funding for facilities upkeep.

La Jolla Woman’s Club co-president rev. Kathy Stewart-Schwan and her mother, longtime member Margie Schwan, during a trip to Italy in 2004.

La Jolla Woman’s Club co-president rev. Kathy Stewart-Schwan and her mother, longtime member Margie Schwan, during a trip to Italy in 2004.

Non-profit status
To help protect the building, the Woman’s Club has applied for nonprofit status, which would allow the public to make tax-exempt donations to its maintenance and upkeep. Each year the club also applies for a grant from the Ellen Browning Scripps Foundation. Previous grants have been used to replace the air conditioning system, refinish the maple dance floor and antique, wooden front doors, and repaint the ceiling in the ballroom.

Prior to its centennial, the club hopes to replace existing carpet with porcelain tile, which is less expensive to maintain, and possibly upgrade its audio-visual system.

“We need to look (toward) the future of this property for the next 100 years, especially now that it’s become so famous in architectural circles,” Thompson said.

“We’re very conscious of building an endowment to protect the property. We feel it’s a treasure that really belongs to the community.”

Photo of a pageant put on by the Woman's Club in 1922. Photo Courtesy La Jolla Historical Society

Photo of a pageant put on by the Woman’s Club in 1922. Photo Courtesy La Jolla Historical Society

La Jolla Woman’s Club history
■ 1894: The club is founded as a current events and literature club for women to discuss books and magazine articles. One month after forming, suffragist and abolitionist Lucy Stone is a guest speaker. Meeting minutes say “she spoke fearless and bold and right to the point.” Annual membership dues are 50 cents.
■ 1897: The club changes its name to the La Jolla Literary Club and joins the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, which has its roots in newspaperwoman Jane Cunningham Croly’s Sorosis Club. Croly started the club in 1868 after she and other women were denied admittance to a New York Press Club banquet honoring Charles Dickens.
■ 1900: The group’s name becomes the La Jolla Woman’s Club.
■ 1912: Membership dues are increased to $2 a year.
■ 1913: The cornerstone for the club’s current building at 7791 Draper Ave. is set in place. The $40,000 building was entirely paid for by La Jolla Philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, and designed by architect Irving Gill. Meeting minutes refer to Scripps as the club’s “fairy godmother.”
■ 1914: The Woman’s Club building opens. Under President Mary Ritter it offers music and drama departments, a chorus, an art and architecture section, social welfare section, girls’ auxiliary, arts and crafts projects, monthly socials and card parties.
■ 1914-18: During World War I, a group called the Mending Mothers sewed twice a week at the club for the soldiers at Camp Kearny military base (today Marine Corps Air Station Miramar). During the war, the club also sponsored the ringing of a noon “Victory Bell,” at St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. The practice swept the country, with President Woodrow Wilson making it a national institution.
■ 1940-42: Clubhouse is turned over to the Red Cross for the production of surgical dressings for the World War II effort. The club is also used as a Civil Defense headquarters in 1941.
■ 1954: The social service section of the club disbands after 27 years.
■ 1973: The City of San Diego designates the building as a local historic landmark.
■ 1974: The building is designated as a national historic landmark.
■ 1975: The city creates a historic zone for the building and its grounds, affording the club a property tax benefit.

La Jolla Town Council SunSetter features Goodwill fashion show

Models in casual clothes from Goodwill are (front row): Arcelia Cuevas, Kay Rose, Lindly Gardner, Karina Heredia, show organizer Yolanda DeRiquer, Marcela Cervantes, Amanda Dolly and Lucy Duck. Back Row: Lucila Duck, Justin Rowley, Sally Fuller, Emiliano DeRiquer and Carime Duck.

La Jolla Town Council’s monthly networking and social event, The SunSetter, featured fashions from the Goodwill store on Girard Avenue. About 100 people gathered at the Woman’s Club on Sept. 19, 2013 to network, see some seacoast styling and take their chances on a raffle — all set to the music of DJ LXIX. Models from the community presented three types of clothing in three mini shows. It opened with casual looks, followed by glamorous, and then vintage-inspired attire. Patrons had the opportunity to buy the clothes on display after the show, and some pieces remain at the Goodwill store’s location in La Jolla Village.

As La Jolla Woman’s Club nears its 100th year, members salute founder, Ellen Browning Scripps

La Jolla Woman’s Club Board Member

The community celebrated the birth date of its patroness and benefactor Ellen Browning Scripps on Oct. 19 with a luncheon hosted by the La Jolla Historical Society at La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club. Born in 1836, Miss Scripps would now be 177 years old.

Ellen Browning Scripps

Ellen Browning Scripps

Among her many contributions, was the La Jolla Woman’s Clubhouse. At a cost of $40,000 it was one of her first benefactions. The La Jolla Woman’s Club will mark its 100-year anniversary in 2014.
Miss Scripps helped her brother, James, start The Detroit News. She pioneered the concept of the feature article and wrote a widely-distributed daily news column until her death in 1932. The youngest child in her family and a favorite of Ellen’s, was E.W. With her financial help, E.W. founded the chain of Scripps newspapers. When her oldest brother George died, Ellen inherited his estate. Miss Scripps moved to San Diego with her brother E.W. and his family in 1891. She was then a woman of 60 with an independent fortune, and for the first time in her life, she established her own home in La Jolla in 1897.

After founding the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, she founded Scripps College, Scripps Hospital and Scripps Metabolic Clinic. She built the La Jolla Woman’s Club, the La Jolla Library, and the Children’s Pool. She provided scholarships to The Bishops School. She purchased Torrey Pines and other lands and donated them to the public as parks. She made substantial contributions to the San Diego Zoo, and she donated sums to many religious institutions without regard to denomination. She commissioned works by local artists and architects, including Irving Gill, and provided gifts for the publication of scientific books, especially books documenting the natural history of San Diego.

Interested in science and education, she donated the bulk of her fortune to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, and the Scripps College in Claremont. She also gave generously to the people of San Diego. She financed the construction of the La Jolla Woman’s Club, the La Jolla Recreational Center, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, the San Diego Zoo, and the La Jolla Children’s Pool.

After a stay in the hospital due to a broken hip, Ellen helped to found Scripps Memorial Hospital and funded the Scripps Research Clinic. These organizations eventually became The Scripps Research Institute, and two of the core providers now comprising Scripps Health — Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla and Scripps Clinic. Her home, reconstructed in 1915 by modernist architect Irving Gill, was transformed into the Museum of Contemporary Art La Jolla.

Scripps was nominated and inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007 hosted by the Women’s Museum of California; Commission on the Status of Women; University of California, San Diego Women’s Center; and San Diego State University Women’s Studies program.

Ellen Browning Scripps died in her La Jolla home on Oct. 3, 1932, a few weeks before her 96th birthday.