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History of LTC

Fourteen years into the twentieth century, Santa Barbara was a bustling small city with residents and visitors eager to enjoy the beauty of its setting and the quality of its life. Modern progress was in the air, combined with a respect for the Spanish history of the missions. Artists came to paint the light. Others came for their health, still others to spend the winter or longer and be part of the California expansion.

Set on a south-facing plain between the mountains and the ocean were ranches and large country estates, small cottages covered with abundant flowering vines, wooden bungalows, and traditional Victorian houses. Flourishing gardens surrounded most of them. Businesses lining the main corridor of State Street were served by carriages, cars, and streetcars. The downtown streets, built on a grid plan, led from the waterfront and wharf to Mission Santa Barbara and on toward the agricultural foothills.

Change was fast paced. By 1914, road, rail, post, telephone, and telegraph connected Santa Barbara to the rest of the world. The 1910 population of more than eleven thousand city dwellers almost doubled by 1920 to nearly twenty thousand. Stylish hotels welcomed visitors. Mail was delivered twice a day, and a newspaper, Santa Barbara Daily News, thrived. Offices and workshops, schools, churches, artisans, and shopkeepers served the life of the town. Trips to town by car required planning, since they could take hours, and much had to be accomplished. There was no opportunity to return home for lunch, and women of this era were not comfortable dining in public places.

Mrs. Charles C. Park (Helen)

On a summer day, August 8, 1914, three friends, Mrs. Charles C. Park (Helen), Mrs. Julia Redington Wilson, and Mrs. Arthur Alexander, came together at the Alexander home, 1520 Chapala Street. Mrs. Park presented an idea she had been nurturing: wouldn’t it be wonderful to create a place to meet for lunch, check parcels, rest, refresh, read, write, play cards, and even leave children between engagements? Wouldn’t it be splendid to join other friends when they were in town? Over the years they often met at Diehl’s Grocery, but it had been taken over by large groups from the Flying A Movie Studio, the largest of its kind in the world in 1913. “There was no more peace at Diehl’s,” it was said. The men had a comfortable place at the Santa Barbara Club. Why not a club for women? Mmes. Park, Wilson, and Alexander agreed to form one and moved forward with enthusiasm. That afternoon they talked with Mrs. Emma R. Kearny, who gladly became the fourth member that first day.

Dr. and Mrs. Park were prime movers in the life of Santa Barbara. They acted as benefactors to individuals in need, supported charitable organizations, and worked toward improvements in the town. “One could see Mrs. Park any morning at eight o’clock, when the rest of Montecito slept, motoring in, to go to the aid of a sick Spaniard, or to someone who needed help…. She, herself, must have wanted a comfortable spot to rest. This probably is the answer to why the club really happened and became her ‘brainchild’.

Mrs. Park took the initiative and located two rooms at the Orella Adobe at 1029 State Street. That adobe is in use today, though as part of a larger building. The new club had a simple floor plan—a hotplate and sink as a kitchen, use of a dressing room next door shared with Mrs. Redfield’s Book Shop, a second room for meetings, and a rear garden with a platform built large enough to seat twelve for lunch.

The Orella Adobe

Over the next several days, Mrs. Park was busy organizing. She called a meeting at Mrs. Alexander’s home for August 17, 1914 and contacted twenty more friends to join the little group. They formed a committee to prepare a list of others to invite. The response was incredibly positive, and the club became a reality.

Mrs. Park suggested the new club be called the “Town and Country Club,” after one in San Francisco. All agreed. This proved to be a big mistake. When the San Francisco club by that name heard about it they responded indignantly. The club apologized to the Town and Country Club and later chose the name, “The Little Town Club.”

Because the club was so small and new, members took over its management. Mrs. Park became the manager, assisted by Mrs. Charles F. Carrier and Mrs. Frederic S. Gould. Later Mrs. Stow-Fithian (Anne) and Mrs. Richard Roberts served as managers. Mrs. Kearny volunteered to become secretary and then treasurer. After informal discussions, Mrs. Park made the final decisions. A membership committee of eight was appointed. This managerial form of government served for one year.

By November 1915, the club had forty-seven members. The initiation fee was twenty-five dollars; lunches were fifty cents. By then they had outgrown the Orella Adobe. Larger quarters and a full kitchen were needed. Dr. Park offered a house he had just bought with the required space and a garden at 1109 State Street. He rented it on a temporary basis for fifty dollars a month while they looked for a permanent location.

It was clear after the first year that the club needed to become more business-like. They decided to incorporate, to establish a proper Board of Governors, and to locate a clubhouse. On November 13, 1915, the members elected Mrs. Park as president, Mrs. Stow-Fithian vice-president, and Mmes. Roberts and Kearny treasurer and secretary, respectively. A House Committee of three was added, Mmes. Julia Wilson, Joel Fithian, and Harold Sidebotham. The president and secretary, Mmes. Park and Kearny, formed a committee to find permanent space. They did this brilliantly with pluck, luck, and determination, a story our members enjoy to this day.

They had a plan. They began at Canon Perdido Street and walked one block east and then one block west of State Street up as far as Micheltorena Street. When they had covered this central area, the president was not in agreement with the secretary on how to proceed, so they sat down to talk it all over.

“The only possible house they had seen was Mr. Thompson’s house at 27 East Carrillo, but Mrs. Park said that Mr. Thompson was a hard man to deal with and also he had lived in the house for forty-five years, so she was not going to try to get it. Mrs. Kearny said that if he had lived in it that long, he was forty-five years nearer to moving out… there was absolutely no other house that could compare to it or its location. Finally, Mrs. Park said she was going home.”

27 East Carrillo Street

Mrs. Kearny then asked Mrs. Joel Fithian (Mary) to go with her to 27 Carrillo Street. “The cottage was a small white one, with purple bougainvillea climbing up the front porch.” A beautiful young lady opened the door. She said she had always wanted to live in Los Angeles and would do all she could to convince her father to rent the house to them.

When the ladies left, they encountered a real estate agent they knew, Mr. Philip Rice. They discussed 27 Carrillo Street with him and learned that Mr. Thompson was more likely to sell than to rent. “There is absolutely no money whatever to buy a house,” replied Mrs. Kearny. The agent agreed to talk with Mr. Thompson and explained to Mmes. Kearny and Fithian how to buy a house with no money. One hundred-dollar bonds could be issued and sold to the club members. Rice took them to see Mr. Charles Edwards, president of County National Bank, whose sister-inlaw, Mrs. George Edwards, was a charter member of the club.

The next morning the committee reported the good news to the president that they could buy the house for $8,500. It had sixty feet of frontage and 213 feet in depth plus an alley in back connecting with Anacapa Street. An elated Mrs. Park met her husband at the bank and Dr. Park decided to buy additional land next door on Carrillo Street to protect the club. He would sell any extra land as needed at the current price.

The Former Little Town Club Home

The house consisted of four rooms: an entrance room, a bathroom next to it with a large tub in the middle, a small room across a narrow hall, and a lean-to kitchen. In the smaller room a closet was transformed into an office with a cigar box nailed under the door to catch money and checks. The charter members brought their dining platform with them and enclosed it. There were now windows all around with wainscoting and chintz curtains. A dining table and real chairs replaced the stools.

The club voted on November 20, 1915, to incorporate under the name of The Little Town Club. On December 21, the members approved a constitution and by-laws as well as the issuance of bonds. The committee posted an invitation for members to donate funds for the renovation of the club.

The club decided to buy ten feet more from Dr. Park for the sum of $1,050. Sometime later they bought an additional twenty-five feet for $5,000.

Next it was time to re-do the house. The members raised $4,000 by subscription. They built the dining room where the panel room now is located. The lean-to kitchen disappeared and was reborn in the area of the current private dining room.

As the First World War was raging in Europe, The Little Town Club was nicknamed a “War Baby” at its beginning. German forces marched victoriously through Belgium. Many Santa Barbarans misread the ominous developments and believed, “the Allies will push them back over the Rhine in a month...” Europe’s events seemed very far away.

During these years new ideas were gathering strength that would flourish and alter the course of the new century. The Suffragette Movement, supported in Britain by women of the aristocracy as well as by women of the working class, was taking hold in the United States, but suffrage was still years away. The need for rural labor diminished and options in homes and offices opened, creating new occupations for women. Women left domestic service in droves, many to work in new industries. By 1917, there were seven hundred thousand women in the munition factories. In 1920, Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Edwardian clothing evolved to better suit the occupations and the tenor of the times, shortening skirts, and altering women’s silhouettes. By 1915, dress lengths had risen from hobble skirts to mid-calf skirts at fifteen inches, the shortest length ever recorded for women’s clothing at that time.

In Santa Barbara at The Little Town Club, Mrs. Park arranged for lectures. Since it was wartime, many foreigners were turning up in the city. Some came to luncheon and talked to members about their own countries and the hardships of war they were enduring. When the United States entered the war in 1917, Dr. and Mrs. Park voluntarily ran a canteen in Paris for troops on leave from the trenches. To everyone’s relief, 1919 brought the Treaty of Versailles.

The founding of The Little Town Club mirrored a response expressed by women from coast to coast for the need for their own social space in which to enjoy one another’s company. Conversation was an art. Politics and religion, by mutual agreement and by writ, were never discussed during lunch. This aid to digestive pleasure remains in effect today.

All this happened before suffrage, before family planning, and before most women pursued a higher education. The founding members were intelligent, generous, and forward-thinking. They worked hard, had patience and ingenuity, and liked to have a lovely time. With spirits high, they drew a circle of camaraderie that widened and prevailed.

We continue to admire the ideas and efforts of these charter members and of the many supporters of the club from 1914 to 2014. For more than one hundred years, The Little Town Club had grown to fill the place Mrs. Park had envisioned.