The Los Angeles Country Club

Close your eyes and conjure up a mental image of Los Angeles.

I’m guessing it was a sprawling metropolis with tons of freeways, glass, steel, and cars? That is certainly my mental image after having spent considerable time visiting the great city. Today, we offer a look back into what Los Angeles once was, through the lens of the club histories produced by the Los Angeles Country Club (LACC).

LACC’s original, fragile, club history from 1936

Let’s begin with the first one, History of the Los Angeles Country Club presented by J. F. Santori. Written by Ann Trabue as told by Santori, the club’s maiden history was published in 1936 (Donovan & Jerris T13390). A banker by profession, Santori served as president of LACC from 1912 to 1936 and was described as small, dark, and stern-looking. The book was bound in gilt-lettered suede leather wrappers, which turned out to be a poor choice since the material did not wear well, leading to scarcity because not many copies  survived.

The book’s description of the club’s genesis puts the reader firmly in a different era: “At the time of the opening of the Club all of what is now Beverly Hills, one of the most beautiful sections of Southern California, was a huge bean field. The general store, Post Office and the railway station were the only buildings. Wilshire Boulevard, that beautiful thoroughfare of smart shops, fashionable hotels and apartment houses, was a narrow strip of bumpy asphaltum stretching from the city through the Soldiers’ Home at Sawtelle to Santa Monica.

The club was now far out in the country and the directors were confronted with the problem of transportation to the club in order to keep their members. Automobiles were still expensive and by no means plentiful and only the more affluent members possessed them. Finally, this difficulty was settled by the erection by the Pacific Electric Company of a little station at the junction of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards where members, milk cans, and supplies of all description were dumped at certain intervals each day and conveyed to the Club in a spring wagon drawn by one horse. This wagon, however, was soon replaced by one of the earliest motorized passenger buses and a regular schedule of meeting certain cars was established. Members coming out on cars not met would signal the Club by means of a semaphore. This signal was replaced as soon as possible with a direct line telephone system from the Country Club Station to the Club House. A 25-passenger bus was later purchased and run between the two points.”

 

 

The club’s 1973 history includes an image from the original 16-acre course which they describe as being cleared from a refuse dump

The course that Santori and Trabue describe was actually the club’s fourth course. Their first was located on: “16 acres in the Market Jones Estate at the corner of Pico and Alvardo Streets on which they built a nine hole course on a part of the land, and constructed nine hard sand greens about 22 1/2 feet or so in diameter. In the exact center of each sand green was a tomato can sunk in a hole reamed out of the hard baked earth with a butcher knife.” It was named the “Windmill Links” because they used a windmill as a clubhouse.

As the club expanded and grew their second course was, “A tract further out on Pico Street near what is now Hobart Boulevard and a nine-hole course laid out called the ‘Convent Links.’ While the first course was innocent of artificial bunkers, the hard, uneven ground providing sufficient difficulty for the new players, this new course sported bunkers made of chicken wire tacked to wooden frames which were placed in positions to catch and hold badly topped shots.” Skillful players could bounce shots off a wooden fence back onto one of the greens if they were in trouble. Railroad tracks running through the course also presented a challenge.

 

LACC is a classic, charming course with a special feel to it. It appears as if their founding celebration, captured above, from 1897, set the tone that is still followed to this day

The club’s third course was located at Pico and Western for a short time: “The course was built with “mule-drawn Fresno scrapers, the fairways dragged by teams of horses drawing triangle-shaped harrows to smooth them out and remove most of the boulders. The soil was primarily adobe and in dry weather the cracks that opened up ‘were so deep you could see to China.’”

For those not on intimate terms with the L.A. street grid, the first three courses were situated on various points of Pico Boulevard near the central core of the city, in what would today be considered downtown Los Angeles, with its soaring skyscrapers.

The club’s current location at the intersection of Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards ranks right up there with the Louisiana Purchase and the purchase of Manhattan Island by the Dutch as one of the great land deals on the continent. The club purchased 320 acres for $48,000 cash in 1904. One of the difficulties they had to overcome before they could consummate the purchase was to have the local law changed because at the time there was a prohibition against a non-profit entity owning more than 50 acres in “rural areas.” In addition to acquiring the club on good terms, they also secured rolling terrain that is ideal for golf. The current location is fifteen miles further east than the earlier courses and only five miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.

The prior quotations and descriptions and the associated images were taken from the club’s second history, From Browns to Greens : History of the Los Angeles Country Club 1898-1973, by Jack Beardwood (Donovan & Jerris B10330). The 129-page book has both contemporary color images of the club as well as vintage black and white ones.

The club’s best history, the 1973 version by Jack Beardwood

When the present rendition of LACC opened in 1911 the view from the veranda towards Beverly Hills featured primarily open space. As the book outlines, “Beverly Hills fine residential sections were not yet in existence.” The prominent sight to take in was a dairy farm in the distance. It goes on to further describe Beverly Hills in the early twenties as “grassless and gaunt.” The current courses at LACC were redesigns by George Thomas of earlier courses and he completed his work in the late ’20s. It wasn’t until the First World War that the club had grass greens, previously the members putted on oiled sand. Other fascinating tid-bits revealed in the history include the fact that permission was granted to drill for oil on the property in both 1911 and then again in the 1960s. Each time the wells came up dry, although it is interesting to remember that at one time Los Angeles was a large oil producing region.

The club’s third history was written by Robert Windeler and is titled Los Angeles Country Club Centennial 1897-1997 Links with a Past (Donovan & Jerris W18820). It was produced in a limited edition of 900 with a slipcase in 1997. This history is significantly larger than the first two at 310 pages. Centennial 1897-1997, a Year Long Celebration, is a 32-page hardcover supplement to the centennial history. Written by Don Keene and Linda and David Barry III it includes pictures of many well-dressed people, a fireworks celebration, and appropriately, given the club’s location, a mobile In-N-Out Burger truck that was part of the festivities.

Scenes from The Los Angeles Country Club by Geoff Shackelford is undated, but is circa 1995. The hardcover book is oblong in format and 26 pages measuring 13 inches long x 10 inches wide. It contains color photographs of the North course taken by Shackelford and notes that the pictures are available for purchase and framing.

Donovan & Jerris list another club history titled History of the Los Angeles Country Club, (D & J L17230) published in 1936, indicating it is 14 pages and softcover. We have never encountered this edition. And, the final book about LACC is Golden Anniversary of the Clubhouse 1911-1961 Los Angeles Country Club (D & J L17200), a 16-page softcover.

It is ironic that a club that took the name of its city, whose defining feature are its freeways and the automobile, was one where early members had to get off a trolley and waive flags to get picked up by a horse drawn carriage to get to their club in the country.

Post Script

Joseph Santori is synonymous with the growth and development of Los Angeles into one of America’s most prominent cities. He arrived in the 1880s on a horse and buggy when the city’s entire population was 50,000. He founded a bank, Security First, that helped finance growth there including the oil business and multiple real estate ventures. His bank was also involved in the financing of the building of U.C.L.A. and the iconic public library. At the time Santori left Security First he had built it into one of the ten largest banks in the country. While not as well-known as Fownes at Oakmont or Crump at Pine Valley because he didn’t design the course, he nevertheless was the defining figure at this historic club.

A picture that truly is worth a thousand words. The pastoral setting of LACC as seen from the air in 1918, from the club’s 1983 history

The Los Angeles Country Club today as seen from the air


 The program from the 2017 Walker Cup match held at LACC contains a color hole-by-hole pictorial of the North Course

— John Sabino

Website of Valuable Book Group

 

About valuablebook

Valuable Book Group specializes in rare, collectible and valuable golf books. We are avid collectors ourselves obsessed not only with playing the game, but also its history and the literature of the game.
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