Y.W.C.A. Hollywood Studio Club
1926 – Julia Morgan
1215 Lodi Place – map
While our landmark building has been around since 1926, the Hollywood Studio Club organization itself pre-dates the structure by a full decade. Mrs Eleanor Jones, a librarian at the Hollywood Branch Library, formed the society in 1916 as a way to give young ladies looking to make a break in the movie business a place to get together and read plays. Originally, meetings were held in the library’s basement. Shortly after, the club relocated to a separate hall and then into a house at 6129 Carlos Avenue, which had living space for about twenty women. The National Board of the Y.W.C.A. took over the club in 1918.
Beginning in 1923, after it was decided not to build a new facility at the Carlos Avenue address, Cecil B. DeMille’s wife, actress Constance Adams, led a huge fund-raising campaign for a brand new club at the corner of Lodi and Lexington in Hollywood. Both studios and individuals rushed to donate to the cause. It seems everybody involved in the industry ponied up some dough, from Famous Players-Lasky, Metro-Goldwyn, Carl Laemmle, and Warner Bros to Doug Fairbanks, Mary Pickford (who was very active in the campaign), Harold Lloyd, Howard Hughes, Gloria Swanson, Jackie Coogan, and Norma Talmadge, who kicked in $5,000. (If you contributed $1,000 or more you’d get your name on one of the rooms’ doors.) There were also donations from Marion Davies, Mrs Arthur Heineman (chairman of the executive committee), Will Hayes, and the Doheny family. And don’t forget about the money from the Y.W.C.A., of course. They added the $94,435 they made from selling the Carlos Avenue place, which they had bought a few years earlier for just $23,000.
Now, I don’t which of the women in the picture below is Mrs DeMille, but I do know every one looks more formidable than the next. Each could easily intimidate me into handing over a check or two.
The job of designing the new club fell to Julia Morgan (1872 – 1957), a woman, fittingly enough. Although she’s got about 800 buildings to her credit, Morgan, a San Francisco-born architect, is maybe best known today for her work on William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon castle (and, locally, his Herald-Examiner headquarters downtown, HCM No. 178). As California’s first licensed female architect, Morgan was no stranger to designing Y.W.C.A.s, her first being constructed in Oakland in the early teens. Besides the Hollywood landmark, her local Y.W.C.A.s were in Long Beach, San Pedro (HCM 186), Riverside, and Pasadena.
Quick aside: below are three pictures of Morgan’s Pasadena branch, built in 1921. Sadly, it’s all boarded up with broken windows. I asked a homeless guy there, "Who owns the building?" and he told me, “Alex.” As it sits opposite City Hall, I’d expect someone – probably not Alex – could figure out some sort of adaptive re-use of the eighty-seven-year-old building.
Julia Morgan's 1921 Pasadena Y.W.C.A.
Morgan designed the three-story Studio Club in a Mediterranean style. It’s got a central section with wings that connect on either side, not unlike the Pasadena building. All told, the building cost nearly $230,000, an awful lot of money in those days.
Friends of the Hollywood Studio Club and the National Y.W.C.A. broke ground on the building on June 15, 1925. Mrs DeMille and May Parker, the club’s president, started the steam shovel, and the Hollywood High School band played a few numbers. Also there was Zasu Pitts, a former resident at the Carlos Avenue house.
With around 2,500 folks attending the ceremony, the new Y.W.C.A. Hollywood Studio Club threw open its doors on May 7, 1926. (To give things a little perspective, the El Capitan Theatre, then legit, opened about a mile and a half from the club four days earlier.)
The Studio Club originally housed eighty-eight women, women who had come from all over the country to work in the movie business, from script girls to actresses. For no more than $15 per week, a woman’s room and board consisted of a single or double room and two meals a day. They also had use of the club’s sundeck, rehearsal hall, and small auditorium. The club would hold classes, put on plays and shows, and host dances and dinners.
The courtyard. This and the black and white shot above are from the L.A. Public Library.
Just get a load of this roll call of some of the women who called the Studio Club home: Marilyn Monroe, Gale Storm, Donna Reed, Kim Novak, Rita Moreno, Evelyn Keyes, Linda Darnell, Barbara Hale, Ayn Rand, Donna Douglas, Ann B. Davis, Barbara Eden, JoAnn Worley, Susan St James, and Sally Struthers. All told, in its fifty-year history, the club had been home to about 10,000 young women.
By 1971, the club had fallen from grace and was a regular hotel, with transient women making up a big part of the Y’s clientele. Losing money as it was, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when new fire laws were passed in 1970 demanding the club perform $60,000 worth of renovations to bring the old building up to code.
The Studio Club closed in February 1975. The Y.W.C.A. kept some business offices there, but even they were out by 1977. In May of that year, the city declared the old club an L.A. landmark. A month later, the club became the new (co-ed) home Jobs Corps, which it remains today (at least for now).
The Y.W.C.A. Hollywood Studio Club was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
Final note: if you’re in the neighborhood, pop in the lobby. Besides being a great space in its own right, it contains a lot a great Club memorabilia, stuff about Julia Morgan, and a scale model of the building. Of course, photography inside the building is verboten (why?), and, at least when I was there, the staff was unwelcoming (why?).
"Film Girls Ask for New Home" The Los Angeles Times; Feb 10, 1923, II16
“Building of Studio Club Begins Soon” The Los Angeles Times; Jun 11, 1925, A7
“Excavation Starts for Studio Club” The Los Angeles Times; Jun 16, 1925, A8
“Studio Club Dedicates New Home” The Los Angeles Times; May 8, 1926, A1
Simross, Lynn “Studio Club Closes Doors on Memories” The Los Angeles Times; Feb 9, 1975, L1
National Register of Historic Places – Nomination Form; 11/78
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