Pacific Beach Woman’s Club: Over a century of camaraderie and charity

The development of Pacific Beach — from sand dunes, marshy bays, strawberry fields and lemon groves to today’s vibrant “PB” — cannot be separated from one of its oldest organizations, the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club. For more than a century, the club has been an integral and dynamic part of the community.

“I joined to become involved with the community and this is a great arena for doing it,” explained Pam Egan, current club president. Egan grew up in Pacific Beach and currently works for Coldwell Banker on Mission Boulevard.

First vice-president Mary Lou Benzel agrees. She and her husband moved here from Seattle in 1998 and ran a printing business in Kearny Mesa. Working 24/7, she didn’t have much time for socializing, but several of her customers suggested she check out the Woman’s Club.

“It’s a great opportunity to make female friends,” said Benzel, who has served as the club’s president twice. “It’s also a way to give back to the community. I have volunteered my entire life. It’s the way I was raised.”

While many members join initially for friendship, they are soon busy working on several projects. Currently, the club includes 60 members and several committees. They meet on the first Wednesday every month at 6:30 p.m. except for a summer break in July and August, and except for September and June, when the meetings are a potluck lunch.

In addition to holding two major fundraisers a year (a Casino Night in the fall and a Wine Tasting in the spring), the club contributes to many charities, organizations and local events. These include Pacific Beach schools, Friends of the PB Library, Surfrider Foundation, Polinsky Children’s Center, Discover PB, PB Town Council, the holiday parade, Concerts on the Green, Beachfest, Kids Fishing Derby and the Police and Emergency Services Association Night (PAESAN).

The Pacific Beach Woman’s Club is a 501(c)(3) organization, part of the California and National Federation of Women’s Clubs (headquartered in Washington, D.C.). It is the largest of the five in San Diego, which also includes Clairemont, Point Loma, Mira Mesa and downtown.

In the beginning

The club was founded in 1895 by six local women as the Pacific Beach Reading Club. They met in one another’s homes with the ambitious agenda of covering 50 years of history every two weeks, through a combination of reading, lectures and music.

In 1911, they received two parcels of land. With a mortgage and help from husbands and friends, they built a clubhouse at 1721 Hornblend St. (between Jewell and Lamont), where it still stands today, the oldest public facility in Pacific Beach. Since then, both the club and the clubhouse, known as Hornblend Hall, have undergone many changes, often reflecting the events of the times.

Within the first 20 years, membership grew, and the organization matured, tightening up parliamentary procedures (after a visitor from La Jolla criticized the casual observation) and joining the state federation. They contributed to San Diego events, including the Panama Pacific Exposition, and helped college women, and victims of the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906. They set up Pacific Beach’s first library in the hall.

World War I years

During World War I, the club organized the PB branch of the San Diego chapter of the American Red Cross and held meetings and classes in surgical dressings, food gardens, liberty bond campaigns. In 1920, the club celebrated paying off their mortgage with a mortgage burning. During this decade, members became more involved in politics, including keeping beaches public, expanding parks, supporting a local post office, helping drug addicts, offering classes in business law and hosting Girl Scout meetings.

They ended the decade with a name change — to the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club.

To offset the Depression during the 1930s, the club pushed for more membership and renting out Hornblend Hall for private parties and public events, such as polling stations. They held many musical events, arts, crafts and flower shows, a country fair and contributed to local food drives, church building funds, the San Diego Exposition, beach and park clean-ups.

World War II years

The World War II years included a repeat of Red Cross work, as well as hosting the American Legion, a district nurse for a baby clinic, a war chest rally, and making and donating clothing for military members and their families. After the war, the club expanded to 200 members (with a junior and senior club) and took on new charities, such as the Door of Hope, local schools and Korean War soldiers.

In addition to helping maintain the clubhouse, the House and Garden committee won floral display awards at the San Diego County Fair. With its Literature and International Affairs committees, the club co-hosted lectures with local bookstores and donated to CARE, and helped exchange students.

The club was integral in the formation of Kate Sessions Park.

In 1962, the club was offered a 15-year lease on a new clubhouse owned by the City of San Diego, next to Kate Sessions Park. They moved in, but decided to hold onto Hornblend Hall and rent it out. The new clubhouse provided space for meetings, fashion shows, musical events and meeting room for other organization such as surfing, gun safety and Boy Scout troops and Camp Fire Girls.

In 1977, after much discussion, the club moved back to Hornblend Hall. The Soledad clubhouse suffered break-ins and arson, and the club raised enough money to refurbish the original clubhouse. Charities expanded to include support for paramedic service, heart and cancer funds, burn unit, Alcoholics Anonymous and The Salvation Army, Mesa and Palomar Colleges, Indian communities, glass and newspaper recycling, forest conservation and planting of palm trees along Garnet Avenue.

During the 1980s and 1990s, membership fell as woman joined the workforce. At its lowest, the 17 remaining members realized they had to ramp-up recruitment, taking advantage of new social media to reach out. Today, the group has 60 members, ranging in age from women in their 20s through 80s.

Growing membership

According to President Egan, the challenges facing the club today are to continue reaching out for new members, donating to charities, finding new ways to contribute to the community — and to raise enough money to keep Hornblend Hall in good shape. The front porch needs repair and recently, a brick-lined cistern was discovered out back that needs covering (it was used when the property was a lemon grove).

With more than a century of club accomplishments behind them, Egan and Benzel are optimistic. “Women come and go, but the club has been here 122 years and it will be here another 122 years,” said Benzel.

Pacific Beach Woman’s Club

1721 Hornblend St. (858) 882-7729. pbwomansclub.org

Year established: 1895

No. of Members: 60

Next Meeting (Potluck Lunch): 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 9. All prospective new members are welcome.

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