The Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club, which would grow to be a formidable force in Santa Monica’s community life, began in 1904 when a group of local women started a study group. The following year they decided to organize formally and founded the Santa Monica Woman’s Club. Founding members included Elmira T. Stephens (the club’s first president) as well as the wife of city-founder Senator John P. Jones. The club enlarged its membership a few years later when it joined forces with an Ocean Park women’s organization to form the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club.
By 1913 the group had the resources to purchase land on Fourth Street for $2,600 and engaged architect Henry C. Hollwedel to design a clubhouse. This was one of several important commissions that Hollwedel, a transplanted New Yorker, received over the course of a long career. Hollwedel also designed Henshey’s Department Store and the Mayfair Theatre, as well as many private homes in Santa Monica.
In 1914 this Classical Revival influenced structure was complete. Largely unchanged since it was built, the two-story stuccoed building is notable for its tiled, hipped roof decorated with an inscribed frieze. Six arched casement windows topped with fans in the arches are spaced at regular intervals across the upper-story façade which is set back. On the ground floor, an inset entranceway leads to three sets of handsome oak doors with period stained-glass panels above them. Marble is used around the doorways. These elements lend an air of solid respectability to the building. Indeed, in its overall symmetry and orderliness—essential qualities in the Classical Revival style—the building was a fitting home for a group interested in fostering social ties and building community.
With this building as headquarters, the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club pursued many projects towards these ends. Among them were offering Red Cross classes during World War I, serving meals to the needy during the Depression, assisting indigent women, sponsoring cultural field trips for schoolchildren, awarding scholarships to deserving students, and donating funds to aid Native Americans, veterans, and the sick. Club members also organized social activities for their own enjoyment. By the 1940s the club was described as “the strongest organization of women of the district,” and in 1955 some 500 local women were members.
The Woman’s Club is no longer the most imposing structure on this block of Fourth Street but it remains a tangible reminder of the active role played by women in building and improving Santa Monica.