Thursday, January 1, 2009
Van Nuys Woman’s Club Building
1917 – Reginald Harris
14836 Sylvan Street – map
Hey, how about a little landmark love for Van Nuys?
That’s what city councilman Ernani Bernardi asked in 1977 when he organized a committee to figure out what sites in his district – the 7th – possessed the potential to join Los Angeles’s inventory of Historic-Cultural Monuments. The following year, the group recommended five buildings: the Woman’s Club Building; City Hall; the Baird House; the post office; and Van Nuys Hotel (not the downtown Van Nuys Hotel, the Van Nuys Van Nuys Hotel). While the last two never achieved monument status (though the post office is on the National Register of Historic Places), the other three were declared HCMs, all on October 18, 1978.
Van Nuys was founded on February 22, 1911. The next year – on April 3, 1912 – sixteen women, who had been meeting as the Mission Study Class of Van Nuys, gathered in the home of Mrs Lucy Lee Trotter to organize a woman’s club for the “promotion of mutual information of its members along social, literary, and civic lines.” The Van Nuys Woman’s Club would be one of the first social institutions in the San Fernando Valley, whose clubhouse would go on to host hundreds of social, religious, and political gatherings, including garden parties, card games, public hearings, and Bible readings.
The club’s first regular meeting was held two weeks later in a Mrs Bachtelheimer’s home. Lucy Lee was made the first president, and dues were established at a buck (cheap!).
The Van Nuys Woman’s Club was federated that July, later incorporated on October 3, 1916.
In 1917, Ida Bailey donated a chunk of land on Sylvan Street (then known as West Virginia Street) and proffered the club the option to buy the adjoining lot for $550. With $3,000 lent to it by Mrs Elizabeth K. Houghton, the Van Nuys Woman’s Club built a $5,000 all-wood bungalow clubhouse with Reginald Harris the architect.
Harris designed the building with “a large auditorium, dining-room, committee-rooms, restrooms for both ladies and gentlemen and a model kitchen. A fully-equipped stage with dressing-rooms on each side is a feature much appreciated by the music and dramatic sections of the club.” Or was, back when the L.A. Times first reported on the project.
The clubhouse’s exterior is primarily redwood, its interior features rosewood. Then there was the dance floor made of maple. The favorite spot in the clubhouse, the solarium, was removed after the 1971 San Fernando earthquake.
1,000 folks turned out to watch the club’s first two presidents, Mesdames Trotter and Houghton, and its current chief, Mrs Fred Kellogg, lay the buildings’s cornerstone on March 16, 1917, the sixth anniversary of the ground-breaking for the town of Van Nuys. (The cornerstone contained contemporary newspapers, three 1916 coins, the club’s year books, and photos, folders, and publications showing the six-year history of town; it may still contain this stuff for all I know.) After the cornerstone ceremony, the crowd moved inside where they listened to the obligatory speeches as well as a few tunes warbled by Mrs Robert P. Elliott and Ellen Beach Yaw, the "California Nightingale”.
The building took another hit during the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The city yellow-tagged the clubhouse, and the cost of repairs – more than $30,000 – sapped the organization’s savings (at the time of the earthquake, the club was down from its peak of 250 to just fifty-six members, most of whom were more than seventy years old). Thanks to a loan from a club-member’s son and a pair of $1,000 gifts from the Westlake and San Fernando Woman’s Clubs, the building was saved.
Even though the organization was fully behind the building’s 1978 landmark designation, in the spring of 1996, the Van Nuys Woman’s Club lobbied the city to remove the building from its list of monuments, maintaining, among other things, its architecture, use, and area were not of “major historical significance.” Dollars to donuts the turn-about had to do with the search for a new owner (potential buyers will often shy away from landmarked buildings, especially if they’re wanting to renovate the structure in any significant way). Records show the last change of ownership occurred in July 1997.
Today, the former Van Nuys Woman’s Club Building serves as home to the congregation Iglesia de Jesu Seristo Fuente de Amor.
“Van Nuys Woman’s Club To Lay Its Corner-Stone” The Los Angeles Times; Feb 11, 1917, p. II6
“Corner-stone Laid on Notable Anniverary.” The Los Angeles Times; Mar 17, 1917, p. II3
Schnaufer, Jeff “Van Nuys Woman’s Club Seeks Quake Repair Help” The Los Angeles Times [Valley Edition]; Mar 1, 1994, p. 2
Schnauer, Jeff “Van Nuys Donations Help Save Woman’s Club” The Los Angeles Times [Valley Edition]; Mar 26, 1994, p. 3
Up next: Valley Municipal Building (Van Nuys City Hall)