Heritage "The Beginning"
History of the University Club of Pasadena
Originally drafted in 1972 by Member and Former President Charles W. Rubasmen
Updated in 2009 by member and former Governor Richard Henderson
In 1921 Howard W. Carter was sitting in his dentist’s chair having a tooth drilled, when he conceived of the idea that Pasadena should have a University Club. He mentioned this to his dentist, saying, “there ought to be enough college men in Pasadena to start a Club.” The dentist agreed and Mr. Carter immediately began to talk up the project as he made the rounds of the town. Soon he called a meeting of those interested at his home on North Hill Avenue. Among those who attended were Dr. Joseph P. Condit, Herbert L. Hahn, Dr. J. Ross Reed, Dr. Humes Roberts, Dr. Henry H. Shark and H.I. Stewart.
“UNIVERSITY CLUB OF PASADENA IS NOW IN EXISTENCE"
HEADLINED THE STAR NEWS ON APRIL 29, 1922
Arrangements were made to occupy a portion of the south end of the second story in the east wing of the Hotel Green, adjacent to the old Santa Fe railroad station. The sun room or porch on the south became a very acceptable luncheon spot and almost as one a considerable group of members gathered there regularly at noon. Edgar W. Maybury helped to make these old-fashioned, high ceilinged rooms livable and attractive. “To begin with, sandwiches were served at noon on round tables like those used in old-fashioned ice cream parlors, with similarly styled metal chairs around them,” reminisces Stanley Brown. It was a wonderful thing because it was the first time that persons of similar tastes and education could get together.
“The old Hotel Green furniture was in there and we had a pool table,” recalled Herb Hahn. “Elsie Cherrison and a man named Carl were the employees who warmed up the Campbell’s soup, made the ham sandwiches and cut the apple pies we had for lunch. These lunches, with coffee, cost 50 or 60 cents. We had between 30 and 50 members when we opened up there.”
“The quarters were very satisfactory and the rent was so low as to be laughable. We got no service from the hotel and had to arrange for our own janitor work. The entrance was up a flight of stairs at the south end of the building. Commander Loomis put in a great deal of time at the new Club, acting as sort of unpaid manager.”
The formal opening of the Club was celebrated by an evening dinner on July 25, 1922, and the fee was about $1.00 for the generous steak spread. In January 1923, an ambitious program of educational and social events had been arranged, including smokers, book talks, lectures, dances, musicales and a bridge tournament. The Club momentum was increased by a number of scientist members from Mount Wilson Observatory and Cal Tech and the staff of the Huntington Library, but the Club later lost some of these distinguished members with the opening of the Athenaeum on the Cal Tech campus.
An important event of 1923 was the employment of John Pearman as manager. In many ways Mr. Pearman made important contributions to the Club which were appreciated by the founding members who knew and admired him. He brought with him his secretary, Miss Eve Hetherington, who, after Mr. Pearman’s death, became Club manager in May 1927 and in a sense, she was for 28 years the rock on which the Club grew. Another of the Club’s long and faithful employees was dining room hostess Erma E. Pullin, who in 1961 completed thirty years at her post.
Few Clubs have been so fortunate in the speakers who have addressed their meetings. These included many illustrious men, but perhaps the most famous was Professor Albert Einstein who addressed the Club membership in 1931. He was a guest of the distinguished solar physicist of the Carnegie Institution’s Mount Wilson Observatory, Dr. Charles E. St. John, who was president of the Club in 1932.
An oil portrait of Dr. St. John, painted by member Seymour Thomas, now hangs in the Library. Mr. Thomas also presented the Club with his interesting studies for the portraits of ambassador James Bryce and Dr. George Ellery Hale, now hanging on the upper floors.
Another prominent member and speaker at the Club was Dr. Albert A. Michelson, who first measured the speed of light and was America’s first Nobel Laureate in science. While making these experiments Dr. Michelson made his headquarters at Cal Tech and lunched at the Club regularly. Imagine rubbing elbows at lunch with giants like these.
One Club member changed the whole world’s concept of the universe. He was professor Edwin Hubbell, who proved to the satisfaction of leading astronomers that the whole universe was flying apart, stars and planets flying away from each other at almost the speed of light. This remarkable man had been trained as a lawyer but his first love was astronomy, and he became one of the world’s leaders in this field. Herb Hahn, who was chairman of the Program Committee at the time, induced Professor Hubbell, much against his will, to address the Club. The professor was right – he shouldn’t have done it – practically nobody understood what he was talking about.
“Crossing the Atlantic on the Hindenberg” was member Wick C. Gans’ subject in 1937. Another of the distinguished speakers was Dr. Frank B. Jewett, head of the Bell Telephone Laboratories, who predicted to the members in 1930 that “television was but a scientific toy and it was inconceivable that it would supplant wire communication.” (It takes a big man to make a gigantic error.)
It didn’t take long for the Club to outgrow its quarters in the Hotel Green, and a committee of members was authorized to locate a permanent home. Jack Pearman did the leg work in securing a new home for the Club. The search took 3 years. In 1925 Manager Pearman notified Dr. Carl Thomas that he had been quietly looking around and had located the present site on North Oakland and Ford Place. The building had been the home of Rev. R.L. Richardson. The lot to the north was vacant and could also be bought, and the Board of Governors wasted no time in starting negotiations for both. The formal opening of the Club in its new home was on September 23, 1926, when it had 387 members.
Besides equipment for pool, billiards and cards, facilities were also provided for mah-jong, chess, checkers and dominoes. Today, with the majority of members being non-smokers, and applicable laws in the State and City, it seems quaint that a popular form of entertainment of the 20's was to hold “smokers.”
Browse through the library and think back to when there was not a single book on the shelves. We are again indebted to Dr. St. John for establishing the Library and nursing it along through the years. From the start, the Library has grown from the books donated by the members.
While the Club’s lunches started off as ham sandwiches and Campbell’s soup, the members soon tired of this and a policy of fine quality lunches was inaugurated, culminating in the Cordon Bleu food served by our chefs today. As charter member Stanley Brown put it, “I have never eaten any finer food anywhere than is consistently served at the University Club.” That statement is seconded by today’s members John (Jack) Bonholtzer, Robert H. (Bob) Martin and Diana Peterson-More.
At the time of the move to North Oakland and Ford Place, “auction bridge” was in vogue and all the card playing members took part in it. Later on, two members who took lessons in the then new “contract bridge” instructed other members, moving from table to table. Having the hands laid out on the table, these members advised the new players how to bid and how to play. “Gin Rummy” and “Calcuttas” also had their period of popularity. The card sharks of yesteryear have become the pool players, and Monday Night Football enthusiasts of today. Completely harmless (and presumably legal) wagering is allowed.
Sometime in the 30’s time frame, stag dinners and “other entertainment” came into vogue. The early stag dinners were later replaced by the famed Sports Stag Dinners, where the guests of honor and speakers were the leading coaches and athletes of the west.
In the 50’s and 60’s, dinner and baseball game parties became popular, with cocktails and dinner at the Club followed by chartered bus, first to the Coliseum and then to Dodger Stadium. An alternative activity would be cocktails and dinner at the Club, followed by hockey games at the now defunct Forum. So that members would not have to miss the World Series of 1960, the Club arranged for a closed circuit, large screen television. This event attracted a large turnout. (Following that tradition, today, the Club has several large screen televisions on which members have viewed the 2008 Olympics, football, and the historic presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.)
A major step forward in the Club’s history was reached in May 1948. Major improvements to the upstairs conference room were completed, along with the elimination of the “view window” in the south wall of the dining room (it looked out on some old garages), and the building of the dining alcove area to look out at the garden (which is now a tranquil courtyard). This was done under the leadership of president Robert M. Lawson, who had been reelected to a second term to enable him to complete the program of improvements started during his first term. The next step in the enlargement of the Club’s facilities was the addition of 6,000 square feet in 1967 which included a new lobby , office and clerical area, a new bar and the “ladies powder room.” These improvements were made during the term of President Lawrence Frost.
Over the years, magnificent oil paintings, which hang in the dining room, entryway and dining alcove area were donated by member-artists.
A great day in the Club’s history was May 20th, 1972, the Club’s fiftieth anniversary, celebrated by a golden ball. The guests of honor, the thirteen surviving charter members, were introduced to a full house of members and guests by Club president, Charles Rubsamen, and included the following members to whom the membership is so deeply indebted: Stanley K. Brown, John F. Chapman, MD, Herbert Hahn, Frank W. Hogdon, MD, Alfred H. Joy, PhD, A. Hoffman Keese, Harry H. Lehman, Wellslake D. Mores, Andrew Neff, PhD., Judge Kenneth C. Newell, Earl E. Simonds, W. Virgil Spalding and Clement J. Storey. The entire Clubhouse was transformed into a spring garden, and guests entered through the colonnade of Grecian columns.
For most of the years of the Club’s history, serving of alcoholic beverages was not permitted during luncheon hours; however, after much debate and deliberation in the early 1980’s the Board of Governors decided that the Club would allow alcohol to be served during luncheon hours. The concern that if “demon rum” were served at lunch some members would abuse the privilege and this would have a negative effect on our luncheon environment proved to be of no consequence. It seems the membership of the University Club of Pasadena was and is aware of the consequences of drinking at lunch, with the result that very little liquor is served during the day.
The issue causing more controversy than drinking at lunch was the question of opening the Club membership to women. During most of the Club’s history women were not able to be members or even eat in the main dining room. Women could attend meetings in one of the Club’s smaller rooms and were invited to attend social occasions with a member. Over the years the issue was discussed but the membership was set in its ways and the rules were not changed. In 1977 two young lawyers took the “bull by the horns” and sponsored for membership Candis Tyson Ipswitch, a young lawyer whose father and grandfather both belonged to the Club. The application for membership was declined and the Club members voted to maintain the “men only” policy.
In the early eighties, the Board of Governor’s unanimously agreed that the Club had to change its policy, but did so in incremental steps. In George Baffa’s year of Presidency (1984-85) the first step was taken, which allowed women to come to the main dining room during luncheon hours as guests of members. This new policy created no problems and the majority of the members felt it was a positive step. Early in John L. (“Jack”) Bonholtzer’s presidency (1986-87) the Board of Governors voted that it was time to put the issue of allowing women full membership in the Club to a vote of the Club’s members. The membership chairman, Gleesan Payne (President 1954-55) and President Bonholtzer both fully supported full membership for women and when the issue was put to the vote of the members, the measure was overwhelmingly passed. The local press heard about the decision and the Club received extensive media coverage, newspaper, radio, and television including television coverage in front of our Club interviewing members as they arrived for lunch.
Many women now enjoy membership in the Club and are involved in leadership positions in the Club’s activities and operations. Several have served as President of the Board of Governors, including Susan T. House (1993-94), Elaine Gregory (1999-00), Christle Balvin (2004-05), Nancy Shaw (2006-07) and Nancy Corrigan (2007-08); the President elect for 2009-1010 is M. Helen Baatz. Candis Tyson Ipswitch was in the first group of women elected to membership, and subsequently served on the Board of Governors. Candis is an active and valued member to this day, lunching almost daily in the main dining room, and more than holding her own in lively conversation with whomever is seated at her table.
In 1993, the University Club of Los Angeles, which had been founded in 1898, and thus preceded the University Club of Pasadena by 25 years, closed its doors. There was a “transfer of membership” program, which encouraged LA’s members to transfer to Pasadena without formalities, and over twenty did so, notably current regulars Richard Henderson, Wally Erickson and Ted Calleton. Most of the Los Angeles library came to Pasadena; the books can be distinguished by the book plates. Along with the books, came a piece of antique furniture, and the portrait of Judge Russ Avery, one of the UniversityClub of Los Angeles founders.
The downstairs “billiard room” was transformed into the Club Pub (still housing one pool table) in 2002. This project, primarily the brainchild of Board member Allan Munnecke, is noteworthy since it was largely financed by Club members. Today, the stairwell into the pub is lined with vintage photos of the Rose bowl in various stages of construction. These photos were supplied by member Bill Leishman, whose grandfather, William Leishman, was the inspiration for this Myron Hunt designed national treasure. Bill’s father, the late Lathrop Leishman was also a member of the Club and is distinguished by a special trophy given out annually to a float in the Rose parade. The Club Pub is a favorite spot for causal member activities, as well as, regular breakfast and lunch groups.
In 2004, President Christle Balvin read the Club’s history and learned about the main dining room “view window” that had been eliminated in 1948. Noting that the objectionable “old garages” were no longer there, she moved to have the window restored. Notwithstanding the vocal objection of two fiscal curmudgeons on the Board (John Burrows and Richard Henderson), the motion easily passed and the work begun. It turned out that the original window had been left intact, window panes and all, within the walls for over 55 years. All that was missing was the original sarcasm, since the “view window” now overlooks a pleasant leafy prospect.
In recent years, the Club has been open to outside banquet and wedding business and has become the meeting venue for community and professional organizations, including some service Clubs and often the Pasadena Bar Association. This has helped strengthen the bonds between the Club and the community and the community and the Club.
Unfortunately, it seemed the tail was wagging the dog, with the balance of outside groups and nonmember activities outweighing member events. Under the leadership of President David Mans, in 2008 the Board of Governors adopted a strategic plan that rebalanced the mix of activities, which led to a members’ dues rollback, and outside groups paying market rate. With the further addition of reciprocal arrangements with prominent clubs worldwide, member value increased. This refocusing of efforts rebranded the Club from “where Pasadena does business,” to “where members come first.” Despite the challenging economic times of 2008,2009, and 2010, membership is on the rise, with young professionals joining the Club in record numbers.
The University Club of Pasadena continues to be an institution made up of the leading business and professional men and women of the greater Pasadena area and provides a friendly and stimulating environment for its members. A great debt is owed to the founders of the Club, presidents and numerous Governors, committee chairs and members who have generously given of their talents and time.
Pasadena has been blessed with good fortune and an important part of this is the existence and availability of one of America’s most successful University Clubs.