The Los Angeles Athletic Club (LAAC) was the city’s first private club. Founded in 1880, when Los Angeles was a town of only 11,000 people, and the preferred mode of travel was the stagecoach, LAAC joined a downtown core of businesses that included saloons and shooting galleries. Forty prominent Angelenos, sons of the pioneers, adventurers, and athletes all, gathered in Frank Gibson’s law office to create an American style club for the “best young men” of the community. Ladies were welcome at social events and exhibitions. The initiation fee was $5, and monthly dues were $1. The LAAC’s first president was Colonel James B. Lankershim, whose family owned a large portion of the San Fernando Valley.
The Club’s first gymnasium equipment consisted mainly of a trapeze, flying rings, long horse, Indian clubs, and dumbbells. Early LAAC members excelled at gymnastics, boxing, handball, and velocipede (tall bicycle) racing. In 1890, The Club adopted the motto “Health, Recreation, Grace and Vigor.” Our founders were well ahead of their time in their understanding of “physical vigor as the basis for moral and bodily welfare.” An early LAAC athletic director noted a marked improvement in his athletes’ condition after substituting a diet mainly of fruits and vegetables for the three pounds of raw beef they had been eating daily. The LAAC quickly emerged as the center for physical culture in Southern California.
The 1890s ushered in the era of the “Boosters,” an influential group of business giants who turned Los Angeles from a bustling town into a thriving metropolis. Their varied business ventures converted Southern California from a sleepy land of orange and lemon groves into an agricultural and industrial empire. The Boosters accumulated substantial personal fortunes were active in civic life and were devoted members of the LAAC. Members among those in the top echelon were Colonel Otis and Harry Chandler of the Times publishing empire; railroad tycoons Eli Clark, Moses Sherman, and Henry Huntington; oil men Edward L. Doheny and Charles Canfield; Senator Stephen White, sponsor of San Pedro as a significant port; and Mayor Fred Eaton, father of the Owens River Aqueducts.
During the formative years of the Los Angeles we know today, three of the prestigious LAAC Boosters served The Club as president: Robert Rowan, a major developer of the downtown business district; William May Garland, prognosticator of civic growth and an active promoter of civic causes; and Frank A. Garbutt, an oil magnate and industrialist whose zeal for amateur sports provided the inspiration for the modern Los Angeles Athletic Club. Catching the booster spirit, the Times predicted a vigorous future for Angelenos:
“The boys take to outdoor sports in a way that is truly refreshing in this day of dudes and laziness. Los Angeles is bringing up a lot of manly boys who will be an honor to this State. Even the young women are taking to outdoor exercise.
This speaks volumes for Los Angeles, and the crack climate of the United States for it shows that the old theory that the environment tends to make people lazy and worthless is all bosh.
A visit to the athletic clubs of this city will convince anyone that a superior race is being developed here, and outdoor exercise in the finest climate under the sun is doing it.”
The LAAC grew up with Los Angeles, its membership roster reads like a “Who’s Who” of the city, with names like Chandler, Dockweiler, Doheny, O’Melveny, and Slauson. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, stars of the silver screen congregated at The Club, among them Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Harold Lloyd and Johnny Weissmuller (“Tarzan”). Perhaps our best-known resident was Charlie Chaplin, who lived at the LAAC during his formative years and cherished the privacy it afforded.
Over the years, our guests have included such luminaries as Jack London, William Randolph Hearst, and W.W. I Ace Eddy Rickenbacker. At a 1913 banquet held in his honor, aviation pioneer Glenn Martin was surprised to find his early biplane in the Fleet Room, being used as a dining table!
…THE FIRST BUILDING IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TO HAVE A SWIMMING POOL ON AN UPPER FLOOR
Like the city around it, the LAAC rapidly outgrew its early quarters. Reflecting success and confidence, a purpose-built clubhouse arose at the corner of Seventh and Olive Streets, drawing on the best ideas of the day. When it opened in 1912, The Club’s new home was the first building in Southern California to have a swimming pool (166,000 gallons weighing 1.5 million pounds) on an upper floor, which caused quite a stir. Thousands toured the Beaux-Arts style building on its opening day, entertained by a 40-piece band, and marveled at the immaculate Turkish baths. Famous Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku made his Southern California debut at the LAAC plunge. Duke remained a lifelong friend of The Club, working as a lifeguard at The Club, swimming competitively on LAAC teams and setting new national records in our pool.
In 1912, the LAAC hosted ceremonies for returning Olympic athletes, among them a young Pasadena native named George S. Patton.
The boom of the twenties fragmented Los Angeles into a cluster of suburbs and kindled Frank Garbutt’s dream of a chain of related sports facilities throughout the Southland. He envisioned yacht clubs and beach clubs along the Pacific shore, at least one golf course and country home, a gun club, and satellite town clubs, plus courtesy privileges at independent clubs across the United States and in Europe.
By the end of the decade, most of these dreams had been achieved. In 1922 the California Yacht Club was officially founded. Two hundred feet of frontage and an adjacent one hundred acres of anchorage space were purchased on the inner harbor at San Pedro. CYC was an immediate success, starting with an impressive nucleus of motorboat enthusiasts who had been active for many years under the aegis of the LAAC.
LAAC purchased 1,320 acres of land near Bakersfield for a gun club in 1924-25. By the time hunting season began in October, a clubhouse with twenty-six bedrooms and an observation tower, as well as keepers’ quarters, blinds and ponds were built. The Maple Ranch, as it was known, was strategically located at Conner’s Crossing on the wildfowl flyway between Buena Vista and Kern Lakes and was valuable for agriculture as well as sport.
In 1927, after two years of planning, the Riviera Country Club was open. It was estimated that the “Los Angeles Athletic Club Golf Course” had the costliest eighteen-hole layout in the world. Riviera was dubbed “the Pine Valley of the West Coast” by D. Scott Chisholm of Country Club magazine.
One attractive opportunity followed another as clubs sprang up all over Southern California, publicized by tantalizing ads and brochures. Many were organized by promoters who sold life memberships and built lavish facilities. They maneuvered well-meaning local business leaders into executive positions, then disappeared with the cash when the bills rolled in, making such financially distressed properties available on attractive terms.
By 1935, LAAC had acquired five financially distressed clubs: Pacific Coast Club, Santa Monica Athletic Club, Hollywood Athletic Club, Surf and Sand Club in Hermosa Beach and the Santa Monica Deauville Club.
Before 1941 came to an end, the nation was at war. The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 meant drastic changes for all the clubs. The Pacific Coast Club, which was located on the waterfront, was warned to prepare at once for blackouts – not a simple matter when fabric and building materials were scarce.
As the nation mobilized, the clubs faced a rash of resignations of members and staff as well as a decline in patronage due to gas rationing and “dim-outs.” Taxes and interest payments accumulated, and creditors became urgent in their demands. In November of 1942, the board voted to dispose of the Deauville Club, Olympic Auditorium, and Auto Park, Pacific Coast Club, Hollywood Athletic Club, Hermosa Biltmore, and several other parcels to raise cash.
Even as the first steps were taken, the conversion to a wartime economy brought unexpected financial relief. The Yacht Club was taken over by the Coast Guard, the Deauville by the Federal Government, and the Hermosa Biltmore by the National Youth Administration. Memberships at the Pacific Coast Club were selling like hotcakes to shipyard employees and Naval officers from the fleet headquartered in Long Beach. The recreational facilities were a boon to the families, while the dining room offered welcome relief from food rationing.
The downtown clubhouse also added a group of new residents when the Women’s Athletic Club was forced to close. No one objected when these businesslike ladies moved in and quietly liberated the tenth floor, becoming full-fledged members as well.
After the war, several Club properties were sold, and by the end of 1948, all debt had been paid. In 1952, nine track and field athletes qualified for the Olympic Games in Finland. The U.S. athletes outperformed their expectations. Twenty-year-old Parry O’Brien of the LAAC led a victorious trio of Americans to win the shot put, while Cy Young became the first American to win a gold medal in the javelin. Art Barnard came in third in the 100-meter hurdles, and Floyd Simmons again placed third in the decathlon. Bob McMillan, who was given little chance to win the 1,500-meter, made a supreme effort to finish second.
In the early fifties, the modernization of the Downtown Athletic Club was well underway. The conditioning departments were renovated, and the swimming pool was replaced by two pools, one to meet AAU specifications for competitive swimming, and a second pool for training purposes. To everyone’s regret, the marble fountain, the head of Neptune, was removed. It was found to be cracked and had to be chiseled away.
In 1956, the LAAC athletic department was substantially strengthened when Richard “Duke” Llewellyn, a USC graduate, professional football player, and former sports and recreation expert with the City of Los Angeles, was appointed the director. In 1954 new regulation handball courts were built. They were the first on the Pacific Coast to provide a glass sidewall spectator gallery and a back wall window for photo and television purposes. The national four-wall handball championships were held there in 1955 and 1959. For the first time in the history of the sport, both tournaments were televised. After that, a series of national handball victories were won by LAAC members: the open singles by Jimmy Jacobs in 1955-57; the masters’ doubles by Alex Boisserie and Joe Shane in 1955-56, and by George Brotemarkle and Bill Feivou in 1959. In 1960 the four-wall and three-wall singles were won by Jacobs, the masters’ doubles by Fievow and Brotemarkle, and the four-wall open doubles by Jacobs and Dick Weisman. The 1970 national tournament, held at The Club, attracted more than 600 entrants.
In addition to excellence in athletics, the LAAC boasts a long and colorful history of artistic, cultural and social activities by and for its members. Today’s Apollo Club men’s chorus (founded 1932) continues a tradition reaching all the way back to 1914, when “The Uplifters” group was formed to produce live dinner theater. Member L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, was its chairman, and performing artists like Tyrone Power came over to The Club from nearby theaters to lend their talents.
Today, members can choose from a wide variety of programs offering adventure, social mixing, and business networking, including scuba diving, river rafting excursions, ski weekends, golf outings, professional groups, wine tasting and dinner theatre. An early incubator for Southern California artists, The Club continues to showcase new talent at “Meet the Artists” events, as well as on its walls.
The success of the present day LAAC is due in large part to two key figures. Charles F. Hathaway, Jr. and Chairman of the Board Frank Hathaway. Both men being sensitive to the traditions of The Club also recognized the need to change with the times. In 1975, the corporate structure of the four clubs was changed and given the name LAACO with Frank Hathaway Chairman and Charles Hathaway succeeding him as President.
In 1976, The John R. Wooden Award was created by The Club, with the blessing of college basketball’s winningest coach. It is the premier prize in collegiate basketball today. The college basketball season doesn’t end until this trophy is presented every spring to the most outstanding player who embodies Coach Wooden’s high ideals of the scholar-athlete.
The winner of the Wooden Award is chosen from an All American Team determined by a national poll of sportswriters, coaches and past winners, including Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and David Robinson. Following the nationwide telecast of the presentation ceremony, Club members and their guests enjoy a black-tie dinner honoring the winner. More than a trophy, the Wooden Award promotes sportsmanship and supports a summer basketball camp and scholarships for local high school athletes.
For more information about the Wooden Award, visit our Wooden Award website at www.woodenaward.com.
True to its tradition of amateur athletic sponsorship, The Club, in 1996 revived its volleyball-training program, producing no less than four national championship teams in its first four years. The L.A.A.C. also boasts the best squash program in Southern California and was honored to host the 1998 U.S. Squash National Championships. Members can witness world-class competition in their midst and take pride in knowing that they are helping to support the continuing development of the human potential through athletics.
We are proud to have been the first nondiscriminatory club in Los Angeles; years before the law required it. Women have been a part of The Club since 1914, affirming that The Club would be a place for the whole family. Today’s membership reflects the diversity of peoples in Southern California, drawing from the professional, business, arts, and university communities. Family privileges are available, as are programs for the kids. L.A.A.C. President and General Manager Steven K. Hathaway is proud to continue his family’s four-generation stewardship of this landmark property.
The L.A.A.C. boasts affiliations with more than 250 of the best private clubs worldwide, among them The Olympic Club of San Francisco, the Washington Athletic Club in Seattle, the New York Athletic Club, the Harvard Club of Boston, the Paris Club Interalliee, and the Royal Automobile Club of London. Reciprocal privileges afford our members access to excellent private facilities at attractive rates. Closer to home, our members enjoy full social privileges at the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, with a lovely waterfront setting and exquisite dining. Members also enjoy social (and limited golf) privileges at the famous Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.
More than a century after its founding, The Club remains a cornerstone of the community, with our mission of providing for the athletic, professional and social development of our members intact. With so much under one roof, The Los Angeles Athletic Club is a truly unique executive haven, a home away from home for our members, proud of tradition but with an eye towards the future. We urge you to take full advantage of all the privileges that membership in The Club affords, and you’ll agree that as your club approaches its 120th birthday and enters the new millennium; the first is still the best!
New amenities include pro-style lockers, a new spa facility, classic barbershop and salon, high-end athletic retail and even a speakeasy.
Amidst a flurry of anticipation, the Los Angeles Athletic Club is beginning construction on a portion of its 125,000 sq/ft space. The 12-story building encompasses athletic, social, and meeting spaces, along with three floors of hotel rooms. Its multi-million dollar interior renovation will focus on its fifth and sixth floors. The Club will remain open during the multiple phases of construction, which include: mens and womens locker rooms, spa facilities, retail corridor, and food and beverage services.
Designed by Los Angeles-based SRK Architects, the project represents the largest renovation in the Clubs recent history. According to general contractor Phoenix Construction & Management, construction will be done in three six-month phases so that members will have continuous access to locker rooms. Completion is scheduled for January 2016.