by Sally Bullard Thornton
Copley Award, San Diego Historical Society
1982 Institute of History
Within all cities there are social entities that play an important part in the life of a city and its citizens. One such entity in San Diego is the Cuyamaca Club.1 Since its founding before the turn of the century, this club has been an integral part of the business and professional life of the city.
In the 1880s, San Diego was experiencing a land boom. Speculators were involved in heavy property trading. Ironically, at the same time, the railroads were having a price war causing fares to plummet to $5.00 from the Mississippi River to San Diego. With the influx of people and tremendous increase in trade there was a great need for “a place to meet and talk over town affairs.”2
As a result of this need, a group of community leaders formulated plans to facilitate and accommodate the social needs of the business sector of the city. On May 26, 1887, Articles of Incorporation for the club were filed with the County Clerk.3 The Articles included the following statements: “The purpose for which it is founded is to promote social intercourse among its members…the term for which it is to exist is fifty years…”4
“The first home of the Cuyamaca Club was in the original Bancroft Building at Fifth Avenue and G Street,” said C. O. Richards, one of the charter members. “Well it wasn’t much of a place for show or anything like that-a few chairs, a table with some reading matter on it, etc. But there was an atmosphere of friendliness that meant much in those days.”5
A committee was appointed. It met and formed the Cuyamaca Building Association “for the purpose of buying real estate and building and furnishing a house suitable for the use of the Cuyamaca Club and to pay a reasonable rent for it….”6 Soon “a subscription list was prepared and the committee…secured donations and notes.”7 A total of $23,000 was accounted for, and an estimate indicated that the total cost of the project would be in the vicinity of $30,000. The architecture was to be approved and the very latest of modern conveniences were to be purchased for the club. “Our city has an assured prospect of an addition to its architectural and social features which should excite the pride of all who take an interest in its affairs.”8
By December, the Cuyamaca Building Association had purchased a suitable lot on D Street between Sixth and Seventh.9 The lot was purchased for $18,000.10 In addition, a home that belonged to the club’s First Vice President, W. D. Woolwine, was acquired for $2,500 and moved “on the the next lot east in the same block…fronting on D Street,” now Broadway.11 The club then moved into the frame residence, the Marshall House, which stood on the former site of the Thearle Music Company at Seventh Avenue and Broadway,12 now the Sunset Building.
“On the evening of August 14, 1888, the Cuyamaca Club opened its beautiful new club for an inauguration reception which included refreshments and dancing…,”13 This may have been one of the more outstanding parties of the period according to the newspaper which described the evening as:
…a brilliant gathering of San Diego’s society; the grandest and most enjoyable social event of the season in this city. The front of the club building was brilliantly illuminated by Chinese lanterns, while the scene from within was one of dazzling beauty. The elegant drapery and curtains, and the delicately tinted walls, and superb furniture blended well with the pretty dresses of the ladies.14
Letters of regret were received from President Grover Cleveland, California Governor R. W. Waterman, General Benjamin F, Harrison and Robert G. Ingersoll. Approximately three hundred and fifty guests attended.15
An ostentatious display of a newly acquired silver service appropriately followed the glitter of the party. “The silver set for the Cuyamaca Club was displayed…in the window of German’s jewelry store. It is the most complete and richest silver service ever exhibited in this city.”16 “There are in all 600 pieces to the set, which cost the club $1,000.”17
Plans for the popular exclusive club seemed to have expanded with its rapid success which required additional fiscal demands. “The Cuyamaca Club has decided to increase their monthly membership dues from $2.50 to $10.00 for the purpose of securing a building of their own.”18
Because of a concern and social awareness of the members, an attempt to create a military aspect of the club resulted in a new organization under its leadership. “The Cuyamaca Club has taken the initiative in the formation of a cavalry corps, which is to be incorporated into the National Guard…. the quota of companies for the state is now full,”19 but a bill before the Legislature increasing the number indicated that:
Southern California might get her share in proportion to her population. Membership is not confined to the club, however, an invitation is extended to as many citizens as desire to take part in its organization. At least fifty men will be necessary to organize the corps.20
More social activities were organized in an attempt to hold the interest of the members and maintain the prestige of the club within the community. On the evening of October 9, 1889, a cotillion given by the Cuyamaca Club at the Hotel del Coronado was described as “a grand affair, and the elaborate ballroom never presented a more brilliant appearance.”21
Period humor and gossip of the time seemed to draw attention to the club and the possible social importance of the members. “The Cuyamaca Club’s existence is said to be seriously threatened by the many marriages about to take place among its members. Business must certainly be improving.”22
Some time ago, there was formed a mess in the Cuyamaca Club, known as the bachelor’s coterie; it was composed of thirteen members, young gentlemen, who had decided that they would never, never marry, and it was understood that they had made a solemn agreement to that effect. It is not known whether the young women of the city, with malice aforethought, deliberately went to work to destroy this reprehensible association, but they certainly caused so many accomplished and avowed back-slidings as to seriously imperil the existence of the club itself…. Ten members have already made “the fatal step” or have plans to do so.23
The ownership of the clubhouse changed hands after the turn of the century in 1903. The house was purchased for $10,000 and the Cuyamaca Club was allowed to remain in residency there for about six years.24 By 1909, the club had outgrown that location and made its third move-this time to the top floor of the new Union Building, later referred to as the Land Title Building and now called the Central Federal Building, on Broadway between Second and Third Avenues. This was to be the club’s home for the next fifty-four years.25 “A $20,000 bond issue was floated among the members to finance the new furnishings. About ten years later this was redeemed and the mortgage was burned with ceremonial rites.”26 The club continued to be a popular social gathering place for businessmen such as John D. Spreckels. Guests of members included important national, political, and industrial figures.27
There is very little written about the club in the post turn of the century period, possibly indicating there may have been some competition for the interests of the social, professional and business community. This could have been aggravated by a preoccupation with World War I and/or other clubs and organizations as the population increased through the years.
One of the most earthshaking events in the Cuyamaca Club’s history occurred in 1919 when, bowing to pressure, the club’s all male membership decided to open its doors to women with the establishment of a “ladies annex.” This step forward was recalled by Elizabeth Thompson, club social director in the 1960s and 1970s, and a great niece of the late A. G. Nason, one of the eleven original directors of the club.28
When that was done, every member of the club received the privilege of registering the names of the female members of his family. Beginning with January 1, 1927, the initiation fee for women was fixed at $50 and the fee for men was fixed at $100.29
In an interview with Dr. Orlan K. Bullard, a retired oral surgeon and former club member, it was learned that in the 1920s the club had three rooms for living quarters for its members. Dr. Bullard was a resident there during his bachelor days.30
Timely rejuvenation at that time caused the club to maintain its place as a beautiful and important city organization. Effective use of fine naturally finished exotic woods and other wall coverings in presenting an all new modern decor was accomplished in 1938. “Every room in the club has been decorated and refurnished.”31 Ten years later, following World War II, the club was modernized again in an attempt to make it more contemporary and active. Cuyamaca Club President Arnold S. Cosgrove told the press, “more than $100,000 has been expended in modernizing the club’s quarters…,”32
Despite attempts to make interior decor more attractive, with the passage of another decade, the club fell on hard times and members were faced with a difficult decision. A five man committee was formed “to study the possible dissolution of the 71 year-old club.”33 Robert A. Bradt, club president, further disclosed that “directors…previously had recommended that the club be disbanded due to financial difficulties.”34
Within less than two weeks, members rallied to the cause and managed to make loans large enough to allow the club to operate for another two to three months. This temporary rescue also bought time for the formulation of a plan for reorganization. James I. Robinson, vice president, said there would be a “reduction of overhead, greater membership support and an intensive drive for new members.”36 By early 1960, it became obvious their plans had failed when an announcement was made that “members…have voted to turn over the organization’s operation to C. Arnholt Smith, San Diego banker and industrialist.”36 By February first the transfer had been completed.37
At the time of transfer, the membership had dwindled from a peak of 500 in 1955 to around 215. Smith had exciting plans for development. He was about to build a twenty-story office building. It would be San Diego’s highest office structure and completed within three years.38
In the interim, in preparation for the move, the facilities were to be refurbished and a concerted effort made to expand membership to the capacity range.39 Smith generously allocated $80,000 to make the premises more attractive and appealing during the short waiting and reconstruction period.40
Elegant new quarters at 190 Broadway, between First and Second Avenues were introduced to more than 700 members by mid-September, 1963.41 The move to the twenty-third and twenty-fourth floors of the U.S. National Bank Building, now the Crocker Bank Building, ushered in a new era, and a promise that the posh new location would “recapture much of the prestige enjoyed by the Cuyamaca Club back in the days when its membership lists were an accurate index of San Diego’s who’s who.”42
Seven and a half years later, in 1971, the club moved again. This time it was to the exclusive three and one-half million dollar Westgate Executive House located at 1055 First Avenue. Previously, the structure, owned by C. Arnholt Smith, had been operated for a year as a hotel.43
“For the first time the Cuyamaca Club will be able to offer ninety-six guest rooms as overnight accommodations to members, their guests and members of fifty-six affiliated clubs world-wide.”44 With more space available, there were plans to increase the existing 1,500 membership to 2,400.45 The new site featuring opulent decor such as marble floors, oriental rugs, damask draperies and eighteenth century French antique and reproduction furniture would attract an even more sophisticated well traveled group of people. Elaborate spa facilities for both men and women offering sauna, whirlpool baths, squash and handball courts would also augment the attraction of the club.
Within less than two years, there were negotiations with the University Club to include their 650 members with the Cuyamaca Club’s 1,200 members.46 But after three weeks, the University Club decided to retain their autonomy and discontinued the talks.47
By February of 1974, U.S. District Court Judge Leland C. Neilsen had appointed Paul B. Andrew, a San Francisco property manager, receiver of the Westgate Executive House and the Cuyamaca Club. The appointment was:
…based upon the petition of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; received for the U.S. National Bank; the FDIC asserted the Cuyamaca Club has failed to pay for rent of the premises; and the exact amount of the unpaid rent is unknown…48
A month later, the Sanderson Fixture Company was “blocked from seizing any assets of the Cuyamaca Club.”49 Sanderson sought $140,000 in a lawsuit “for glassware and silverware the company supplied to the club.”50
Five months later in November, Paul Andrew, the receiver, proposed a long term lease for the Cuyamaca Club. The plan was to lease the club to Clubs of America, headquartered in Dallas, Texas.51 “The lease arrangement was approved…by Judge Neilsen…. The lease would be for twenty years with two five-year renewal options to follow making the agreement in effect a thirty year lease.”52
Clubs of America, Senior Vice President for Development Richard Poole, said that $75,000 would be invested in improvements and that:
…his company’s intention is to keep the club’s local flavor and use a local board of directors to obtain a local viewpoint for its operation…. Clubs of America is a privately held corporation founded in 1957 to organize, construct and operate private clubs…. The firm operates thirty-three entities, including country clubs, “intermediate” clubs and “city” clubs, in high-rise buildings…. Poole testified that no club under Clubs of America has ever failed.53
The club continues today in this posture, providing the same outstanding service to its members that its founding members envisioned. While the ownership of the club has changed, its basic function, philosophy and importance remain the same.54
1. The Club, The Story of the Cuyamaca Club (San Diego: Frye and Smith, Ltd., 1948). The name “Cuyamaca” was taken from that of the mountain and lake seventy miles east of San Diego. Mr. Edward H. Davis of Mesa Grande, an authority on Indian matters thought that il was made up from the Indian words “E-quee-e-mahk” which means “rain behind,” apparently because Indians living west of the mountain would often see dark clouds over the peak.
2. Forrest Warren, “Party to Mark 50th Year for Cuyamaca Club,” The San Diego Union, June 19, 1937, p. 10, col. 1.
3. The Cuyamaca Club, Constitution and By-Laws (San Diego: Frandzen, Bumgardner & Company, 1888), p. 8.
4. Ibid., p. 4. The eleven Directors appointed and elected for the first year were: T. RichieStone, W. D. Woolwine, Heber Ingle, John R. Barry, Patterson Sprigg, T. A. Nerney, E. S. Babcock, Jr., W. E. Christian, H. T. Beauregard, Charles M. Flower, and A.G. Nason, p. 5.
5. The San Diego Union, June 19, 1937, p. 10, col. 1.
6. Ibid., June 4, 1887, p. 4, col. 1; The Cuyamaca Building Association committee consisted of Messrs. L. S. McClure, H. B. Crittenden, W. B. Woolwine and Cassius Carter.
9. Ibid., December 17, 1887, p. 5, col. 3-4.
10. Ibid., April 12, 1888, p. 5, col. 2.
12. The Story of the Cuyamaca Club.
13. The San Diego Union, August 15, 1888, p. 5, col. 1-2. The music was provided by the City Guard Band.
16. Ibid., October 9, 1888, p. 8, col. 2.
17. Ibid., October 10, 1888, p. 1, col. 5.
18. Ibid., December 4, 1888, p. 5, col. 2.
19. Ibid., February 21, 1889, p. 5, col. 2.
21. Ibid., October, 10, 1889, p. 1, col. 5.
22. Ibid., November 14, 1889, p. 4, col. 1.
23. Ibid., p. 5, col. 2. A coterie is a small group of persons who associate frequently.
24. Ibid., May 5, 1903, p. 2, col. 5.
25. Beverly Beyette, “Club Goes to New Quarters, Cuyamaca Has A Moving Experience,” The San Diego Union, March 1, 1971, Sec. A, p. 3, col. 1-8.
26. The Story of the Cuyamaca Club.
27. Warren, “Party to Mark 50th Year for Cuyamaca Club,” p. 10, col. 1.
28. Beyette, “Club Goes to New Quarters, Cuyamaca Has A Moving Experience,” Sec. A. p. 3, col. 1-8.
29. Warren, “Party to Mark 50th Year for Cuyamaca Club,” p. 10, col. 1.
30. Interview with Dr. Orlan K. Bullard, San Diego, California, May 3, 1981.
31. The San Diego Union, May 8, 1938, Sec. 6, p. 1, col. 1.
32. Ibid., February 4, 1948, p. 4, col. 1.
33. Ibid., July 23, 1958, p. 13, col. 1.
35. Ibid., August 6, 1958, Sec. B, p. 1, col. 1-2.
36. Ibid., January 15, 1960, p. 19, col. 2-3.
37. Ibid., February 2, 1960, p. 13, col. 6.
38. Ibid.. January 15, 1960, p. 19, col. 2-3.
39. Ibid. February 6, 1960, Sec. B, p. 1, col. 7-8.
40. Ibid., April 12, 1960, p. 21, col. 1-2.
41. Ibid., September 29, 1963, Sec. B, p. 2, col. 1-6.
43. Beyette, “Club Goes to New Quarters, Cuyamaca Has A Moving Experience,” Sec. A, p. 3, col. 1-8.
44. Ibid., August 1, 1970, Sec. B, p. 1, col. 6-7.
46. Ibid., January 23, 1973, p. 4, col. 4-5.
47. Ibid., March 14, 1973, p. 1, col. 6-7.
48. Ibid., February 13, 1974, p. 8, col. 6-7.
49. Ibid., March 15, 1974, p. 3, col. 3-4.
51. Ibid., November 23, 1974, p. 1, col. 3-6.
52. Ibid., November 26, 1974, p. 1, col. 2.
53. Ibid., col. 3-4.
54. Interview with Paul D. Engstrand, San Diego attorney and Cuyamaca Club member, San Diego, California, May 4, 1981.
THE PHOTOGRAPHS are from the San Diego History Center’s Title Insurance and Trust Collection.