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Cherished women's club holding open house to recruit new members

January 15, 2012 |  9:29 am

Ebell

Times and tastes have changed a bit since the Ebell of Los Angeles was founded in 1894. But the  organization that began as an intellectual women's club lives on.

On Sunday, it will fling open the doors to its historic home in the hope that newcomers will fall for the place. From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., at 743 S. Lucerne Blvd, there will be cookies and coffee and clubhouse tours and a pipe organ playing in the club's Wilshire Ebell Theatre.

More than that, there will be an opportunity to view something uncommon here: a piece of history so cherished and lovingly protected that it remains in many ways frozen in an earlier era.

The original furniture is all there — in the art salon, in the practically football-field-size "lounge." The walls are lined with plein-air paintings popular when the building was new. Club records — including early yearbooks with studio portraits of each member — have been carefully passed down generation to generation and are now being meticulously archived.

"It is an absolutely fascinating place, hidden in time," says Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, the author of three nonfiction books and the club's president, who says she feels "like a proud parent, thrilled about the chance to show my baby off."

Ebell has somehow managed to cleave true to its core missions while evolving in ways its founders would find flummoxing.

Once all-white, the club is now diverse. Its president is African American, it counts four (non-voting) men in its ranks, and its members, ages 19 to 101, come from all sorts of neighborhoods and backgrounds. Many work for a living. Most are college graduates.

Sadly, though, despite a not-at-all-snooty admissions process and modest annual dues of $220, modern times make for fewer members than there used to be.

The club would like to have more than the 360 it has. It would like to see a lot of youthful applicants, and organizers hope Sunday's open house will be a way to bring them in.

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-- Nita Lelyveld

Photo: The club’s “lounge” is practically the size of a football field. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times.

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