The Long Beach Ebell Club

By Claudine Burnett
1933 EARTHQUAKE damage to the Ebell Club

For Women’s History Month, it seems appropriate to write about the Long Beach Ebell Club, whose clubhouse remains at 3rd and Cerritos. Many may not be aware that the organization was based on the teachings of Dr. Adrian Ebell, a pioneer in women’s education.

Adrian Ebell felt women were limited in what they were taught and that there was a great need to present opportunities for them to study the sciences, as well as the arts. On a lecture tour of the United States in 1876, he instituted educational classes in Oakland, California. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Ebell passed away, and it was decided to honor him by naming the Oakland organization of women club members “Ebell Club.” It was a philosophy and name that spread. In 1894, a second group was organized in Los Angeles, and a month later, one in Santa Ana. The Ebell Club of Long Beach was formed two years later.

“To interest women in the study of all branches of literature, art and science and the advancement of women in every branch of culture.” This was the mission statement of the Long Beach Ebell Club, organized in Long Beach on November 16, 1896. The seventeen original members met at the home of Adelaide Tichenor at the southwest corner of Maine Avenue and First Street. Interest was so great that within a year the membership had increased to 51, with meetings alternating between participants homes.

As numbers increased, the Congregational church was used, but in 1905, the membership decided a permanent clubhouse was needed. Though every woman promised to give $10 ($345 in 2022), another five volunteered to donate $500 ($17,200 in 2022) to start the fund. A lot was purchased, but it was too small. It was sold at a profit, and the money was placed in the fund. The Ocean Pier West Company then agreed to donate a lot, with the stipulation that the building be completed within 90 days and cost at least $3000 ($103,000). Instead, the association built one for $7000 ($240,000) all within 90 days! (Long Beach Tribune 12/16/1905) (LA Times 12/27/1905)

The unique nautical-themed building formally opened on Dec. 26, 1905. It was on the sand at the foot of Daisy, facing the ocean and beach on one side and Ocean Avenue on the other. It was a two-story structure with a roof garden, but from Ocean Avenue, it looked like it was a single story. The entry was from Ocean by a draw bridge which led to the second-floor club rooms. A knotted rope motif graced the stairway. There was an auditorium, kitchen, dining room and dressing rooms, all in the same nautical design. Real abalone shells, complete with barnacles, were used to shade the electric lights.

Long Beach entered a tremendous period of growth following World War I, and the Ebell clubhouse sat on some of the most valuable land in the city. In November 1919, members agreed to sell the lot for $10,000 ($169,000 in 2022), and the money was used as a down payment on the property at Third Street and Cerritos (some felt shockingly far from the center of town!).

The cornerstone of the new clubhouse was laid in October 1924. The building, grounds and furnishings were completed in 1927 for $225,000 ($3.8 million in 2022). Then came the 1933 Long Beach earthquake which demolished the clubhouse. Undaunted, members hired trucks and crews to salvage auditorium seats, kitchen equipment, pianos, furniture and everything else that could be used in the future.

Well-known satirist Will Rogers was one of many who helped the Ebell rebuilding cause. All proceeds from his performance at a packed Long Beach Municipal Auditorium went to the club. This time, the building was made earthquake proof. During World War II, it became Red Cross Headquarters, and members knitted, sewed, and sold bonds for the war effort.

The role of the Ebell Club in putting Long Beach on the map cannot be underestimated. Club president Adelaide Tichenor summed it up in a speech she gave in May 1905. (LA Times 5/16/1905)

“One of our honorary members, a prominent man in town, said the Ebell had done more to make Long Beach what it is today than any other element. When the club was first started, the general impression was that Long Beach was nothing more than a tent city, and there were no people there except those who lived in tents. After a while, it was learned there was an Ebell Club in Long Beach, and there really must be a town there with homes and intelligent people living in them.”

As the years passed, the Ebell Club continued to be vitally involved in making Long Beach the community it is today. Education through lectures, musical programs, and theater was always the prime purpose of the club, but so was fundraising. In 1971, the mortgage was paid off with more money now available to fund scholarships for Long Beach area students.

But roles for women were changing. No longer were most stay-at-home moms, they had joined the workforce. As older members passed away, recruiting new members became difficult. Equal rights for women became the major concern for those born after World War II. The Long Beach Ebell Club entered its declining years, the club closing for good in 2017. The building was purchased by a private concern and can now be rented out for weddings and other events. Profits from the sale of the club went to philanthropic causes.

I feel fortunate in having been invited to lecture and dine at the Ebell Club. Retired Long Beach Public Library librarians Peggy Holmes and Alice Appel helped keep the organization going. They requested that the club’s scrapbooks be donated to the Long Beach Collection at the Main Library.

If you want to take a trip to the past and relive the vibrant years of the club, ask to see the scrapbooks at the Billie Jean King Library. These mementos of the past were elaborately decorated, lovingly preserving the club’s yearly activities. They are now part of the library’s Long Beach History Collection.

Claudine Burnett is a retired Long Beach Public Library librarian who compiled the library’s Long Beach History Index. In her research, she found many forgotten, interesting stories about Long Beach, which she has published in 12 books as well as in monthly blogs. You can access information about her books and read her blogs at www.claudineburnettbooks.com.

Category:

Add new comment

Beachcomber

Copyright 2024 Beeler & Associates.

All rights reserved. Contents may not be reproduced or transmitted – by any means – without publisher's written permission.