July 31, 2014

A Century of Woman Power

 

Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club celebrates 100 years of strong fellowship and philanthropy­­­

PHOTOS BY ANTHONY VEREBES, MESSENGER 2014

A Century of Woman Power

Built in 1914, the SMWBC clubhouse is both impressive and welcoming. The clubhouse was designated a City of Santa Monica Historical Landmark in April 1991.

There’s a lot to say and preserve this year for the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club (SMBWC). The club is celebrating an astonishing 100 years and with 110 members (including one male), they pride themselves on dedicating their services to enhancing the community. It was organized in 1905 by community activist Elmira T. Stephens with an initial membership of 88 women. At one time, during the 1950s and 1960s, the SMBWC grew to more than 700 members.

“Our intrinsic purpose is to provide programs, events and activities to benefit the local community and, in doing so, ourselves and the world,” said Marcia Stein, board member and projects committee chair of the SMBWC.

One way the club contributes to the community is by offering a variety of free educational and cultural events for members and the public. They also offer free health lectures once a month with highly qualified respected doctors and experts. An array of live entertainment—from rock concerts and opera to comedy nights and theatre—is also scheduled. Some of the acts that have performed include the Los Angeles Metropolitan Opera, Da Camera Society, singer Adele and the famous Lennon Sisters, whose concert profits have helped the renovation of the SMBWC’s kitchen.

“Our attendance is growing each month and it’s great to see everyone come together to celebrate,” Stein said.

A Century of Woman Power

Inside the club, there is a proscenium arch stage with full stage lighting, electric curtain, backstage dressing rooms, a Steinway grand piano and a screen for films.

Stein said that most of the events are pure rentals, such as weddings and birthdays, but has accommodated a wide variety of activities and special occasions, among them the annual California Preservation Conference, the annual meeting of The Junior League, the Blue Planet Film Festival, art exhibits, memorials, book fairs, sample sales, travel shows and antique shows.

“With all of this going on, the SMBWC is a pretty happening place,” Stein said.

A happening place it is, with diverse activities for any member. Every Monday morning the ballroom is filled with devoted Bridge and Canasta players and by evening it is transformed into a vibrant venue for Tango. Tuesday morning’s members have the opportunity to explore their craft talents with the Artist’s League and first Wednesday night of the month there is ballroom dancing. Other member activities during the week include a book club meeting, creative writing group, workshops and a chance to plan club events through the projects committee.

“We value our organization and want to continue our tradition of good times and good deeds,” Stein said. “If you take advantage of even a fraction of the diverse activities going on, you may find a whole new world of stimulating, fun and inspiring interests and friendships.”

HISTORICAL LANDMARK

Built in 1914, the SMWBC clubhouse is both impressive and welcoming. The clubhouse was designated a City of Santa Monica Historical Landmark in April 1991. With its clean and elegant design, it can also transform into a myriad of moods and themes.

“When you enter through the front doors, this place works its magic,” Stein said. “With all the rapid growth in Santa Monica, it is reassuring to see that our 100-year-old clubhouse stands as a reminder of times gone by and know that some things can stand the ravages of time with a little help to stay current and relevant.”

Many renovations have been done over the years to preserve the building, which includes repainting, fixing cracked walls, new doors, windows, stucco and a new Venetian Shutter system on the roof. The roof had been covered during WWII “blackouts” so enemy bombers would not have city lights to target. Now unveiled, the breathtaking skyline can be seen 40 feet from the ground. All in all, renovation costs have come close to $100,000, according to Scott Hoffman, owner of Primary Colors Painting, whose specialty is restoration.

“It’s been a challenging building to work on but has also been rewarding. [The clubhouse] is one of the best kept secrets in town,” Hoffman said.

Stepping into the foyer through the antique stained-glass front doors are graceful twin staircases which lead to the upper balcony, while the original maple floors of the foyer lead into the spacious ballroom straight ahead. Stein said the two-story ballroom can hold 350 people theatre-style and 250 for a banquet. There is an adjacent dining room replete with floor-to-ceiling windows and chandeliers and room for even more dancing. Even more awe: there is a proscenium arch stage with full stage lighting, electric curtain, backstage dressing rooms, a Steinway grand piano and a screen for film or other projections. Speaking of films, filming has also been a hot spot for the club, with the backdrop being used for the movie “Social Network,” ads for Target and Folgers, and tapings of many music productions such as Vineyard Touring Opera Company’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Adele’s live concert for “The Artists Den.”

“Having movies filmed at the club is a way to share the club with the world. The club becomes part of all our renters’ histories as it is preserved not only in their memories but in their pictures, videos and films,” said Becky Upchurch, president of SMBWC since June 2012.

But the heart of the SMBWC is much more than the building itself. It is in the spirit and dedication of the current membership to maintain the legacy of the original founders.

“As a member of SMBWC, it is very rewarding to know that we are preserving this grand old building and in doing so are able to use it to continue benefitting the community,” Stein said.

PHILANTHROPY AND FUNDRAISING

Since its founding, the SMBWC has done remarkable deeds for the community, raising thousands of dollars to be used to maintain the historic building or for donating to worthy charitable organizations, such as victims of human trafficking, the Search Dog Foundation, Ocean Park Community Center (for the homeless), Harvest Home (residence for pregnant women), School on Wheels and the Red Cross. The club also has a proud history of hosting Red Cross efforts and special USO dances.

“We also give reduced rental rates to non-profits, which in itself is an in-kind donation, and we will occasionally co-sponsor an event by donating the entire use of the building,” Stein said. “Our volunteer members help with baking and serving refreshments, helping decorate the ballroom and ushering.”

Upchurch agrees. “By continuing to give back to the community through the fundraising efforts and donations from others, we are upholding the original purpose of the founding club members,” she said.

With all of the good deeds done, the club will remain a strong community foundation for another 100 years and continue to bring in new members.

“Being around for more than 100 years shows how dedicated and persevering women are. Becoming a member not only introduces you to new friends, but also to new opportunities and causes of others not so fortunate,” Upchurch said.

The Santa Monica Bay Women’s Club is located at 1210 Fourth St., Santa Monica CA TKTKZIP. Their membership year starts June 1. To become a member: (310) 395-1308; or e-mail office@smbwc.org. There is a $50 membership fee for the first year and $40 to renew each year after. Members are welcome from all over.