Eagle Rock women's club celebrates centennial

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Exactly 100 years after a group of suffragette Progressives in Eagle Rock opened the doors of their own Corinthian-style clubhouse in 1915, nearly 250 local residents crowded into the same building to celebrate the anniversary. People from all across Eagle Rock came together Feb. 28 to honor the women, their extensive charity work and the club’s longstanding legacy.

The Women’s Twentieth Century Club began meeting in members’ homes in 1903 to address issues affecting women and the larger community of Eagle Rock. Over time, they backed suffrage efforts, supported soldiers fighting in Europe, established Eagle Rock’s first public library—funded by a $7,500 grant from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie—and, in 1912, fought against a proposed measure at Occidental to stop admitting women to the university.

The women decided to build a clubhouse around the club’s first anniversary. Shortly after, they held their first fundraiser, raising $31.25. By 1912, they were able to purchase a plot of land and constructed the building two years later. They began meeting the following March, according to the club’s website.

“I think one of the sweetest things that’s been said to me is ‘Oh, when you walk in this building, it’s like being in a home,'” Vice President Roe Muzingo said. “Another young girl said ‘It’s like getting a hug.’”

The building was able to be preserved under the club’s new leaders, despite past problems with sustaining membership.

In the late 1990s the organization’s membership had plummeted, and its aging leaders no longer had the energy to rebuild it, according to Muzingo and President Lani Stapp. There was little money left, Stapp said, and there were rumors that someone in the club wanted to sell the clubhouse. In 2001, then-President Edna Shelton decided to appeal for help. She enlisted Muzingo and Stapp and several others, asking them to save the club and its history.

Stapp had never been in a women’s club before. Yet as soon as she walked through the door, she decided to volunteer her time and effort to the organization.

“We were in the kitchen, and I started looking through cupboards, and saw dishes and little tin Jello molds and things from a hundred years ago and thought, ‘This history cannot be lost,'” Stapp said. “This history of women getting together to celebrate their lives … it has to go on.”

This revitalization of the club included fixing the aging clubhouse, which had been damaged from an earthquake a few years prior. After the renovations finished in 2013, the United States Department of Interior granted the clubhouse a place on its National Register of Historic Places. Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar donated $10,000 toward renovating the building, and proceeds from the February centennial will also help to finance construction. Still, Allen estimated that there are $25,000 worth of repairs still to be made.

“The ladies didn’t realize—you can’t sell this building, in the sense that we don’t own it,” Stapp said. “Nobody that’s [been] working to keep this building going for a hundred years owns this building. We’re caretakers for the next generation.”

The club’s new leaders began to enlist new members, rent out the clubhouse to generate income and organize new philanthropic projects. The women also began fundraising to provide for local families in need, donating school supplies and gift cards for children during the holidays. Membership also increased to nearly 100 members, former President Linda Allen said.

The house stands out from neighboring businesses on Colorado Boulevard with its lush greenery, abundant flowers and quaint-looking patio. Inside the building, most of the original layout has remained the same over the years. Much of the space is taken up by a makeshift auditorium/dance hall/meeting area, used by the club, local public officials and Eagle Rock High School, among others. Years ago, the same place was also used as a baby center, providing postnatal care for local residents.

But the club’s meetings mainly served as a space for Eagle Rock women of all ages, ranging from 20 to 94, to support one another, Stapp and Muzingo said.

“I think it’s always being mindful of what women’s issues are,” Allen said. “Women have gone out into the workforce, and so you have to change your approach to, ‘Okay then what do they need? And what do the new mothers of today, what do they need?'”

Even now, sometimes the best part comes down to the club’s community and camaraderie, Muzingo said.

“I think we’re very blessed,” Muzingo said. “You develop a lot of close friendships … It’s like having a bunch of sisters.”