Pacific Beach Reading Club

Hornblend Hall, the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club clubhouse on Hornblend Street between Jewell and Kendall, is one of the best-known historical buildings in Pacific Beach. It was built in 1911 for what was then known as the Pacific Beach Reading Club, which traced its origins to 1895 and the world-famous poet Rose Hartwick Thorpe, then a Pacific Beach resident. In 1867, when she was 16 years, she had written the poem Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight about a young girl, Bessie, who saved her lover Basil from execution by Oliver Cromwell’s troops during the English Civil War. Basil was scheduled to die when the curfew bell rang, so Bessie climbed the tower and clung to the bell as it swung, preventing it from ringing. Then she climbed down and begged Cromwell to spare Basil, and, his heart touched with pity at her anguished face and bruised and torn hands, he pardoned Basil. ‘Go! Your lover lives, cried Cromwell. Curfew shall not ring tonight’.

In 1887 Rose Hartwick Thorpe was living in Texas when Harr Wagner, editor of the literary magazine Golden Era, recruited her to come to San Diego to write for his magazine and help him promote a college he was hoping to establish in Pacific Beach. She did move to Pacific Beach, and when the San Diego College of Letters opened in 1888 her daughter Lulo was one of the first students. Edward (E. Y.) Barnes and Mary Cogswell were two other students at the college whose parents had relocated to Pacific Beach. When the college closed in 1891 the Thorpe, Barnes and Cogswell families remained in Pacific Beach and were among the first to take up lemon ranching, the business that sustained the community for the next decade. In March 1895 Mrs. Thorpe, Phoebe Barnes and Elizabeth Cogswell were among the ladies of Pacific Beach who met at Mrs. Thorpe’s and formed a reading club ‘for the purpose of studying ancient history, the leading topics of the day and of receiving mutual benefit’. Other charter members included Alice Johnson, Fannie Gleason, Rebecca Ash, Catherine Furneaux, Ella Woodworth and Prudence Robertson (Mrs. Johnson was a widow, the Ashes and Gleasons were also lemon ranchers, Rev. Mr. Furneaux was the Presbyterian minister and the husbands of Mrs. Woodworth and Robertson worked for the Pacific Beach railway). Mrs. Thorpe was elected president.

In its early years the Reading Club met at the homes of members, usually Mrs. Thorpe or Mrs. Barnes, although meetings were also held in the homes of Mrs. Robertson, Mrs. Cogswell and Mrs. Stearns, another lemon rancher. By October 1895, the San Diego Union noted that these meetings were becoming quite an important feature of the social life of Pacific Beach. Meetings generally included a study session on a historical or literary topic, often led by a member with some experience in the subject, a musical program which might include performances by young people of the community, and a social hour featuring ‘dainty’ refreshments. The meetings were not necessarily restricted to members; in March 1896 the ladies invited their husbands and friends to attend a pleasant gathering at the home of Mrs. Barnes in honor of president Rose Hartwick Thorpe. The entire program was devoted to her works; each member responded to roll call with a selection from her writings and the honoree herself delivered a recitation of her famous poem. Annual business meetings were also held to elect officers, and the club took a two-month vacation over the summer.

Lulo Thorpe and E. Y. Barnes were married in 1895 (and also became lemon ranchers), and Lulo Barnes soon became an active member of the Reading Club. At one meeting in her home in December 1898 the ladies discussed patriotism very earnestly and at the close sang heartily some very patriotic songs (the Spanish-American War had taken place during 1898). Mary Stoddard Snyder was a botanist and authority on marine algae who enjoyed collecting and mounting specimens of locally-collected sea weeds. She had joined the Reading Club when she moved to Pacific Beach in 1896. At the annual meeting of the club at Mrs. Thorpe’s in March 1898 Mrs. Thorpe earnestly requested to be relieved of the presidency and Mrs. Snyder was elected in her place. Dr. Martha Dunn Corey, who owned a lemon ranch and was also the first physician in Pacific Beach, was elected secretary (Dr. Corey also moved into the house built for Harr Wagner after he moved downtown). These officers were reelected in 1899, along with Ida Johnston, wife of the Presbyterian minister (who had replaced Rev. Furneaux), who became vice president. At Reading Club meetings these women could be counted on to present interesting information based on their own backgrounds. In February 1898 the regular meeting of the Reading Club spent the time very pleasantly upon a study of ancient Egypt. Mrs. Johnston, who had spent many months in that interesting country, contributed largely to the interest of the subject. In 1899 Mrs. Snyder delivered a paper on the trees of California (followed by a tasty lunch of tea and cake and a most pleasant social time). Dr. Corey spoke on the assimilation of foods in 1900.

Emma Jessops Scripps joined the Pacific Beach Reading Club in 1900 when she and her husband, Fred T. Scripps, brother of the newspaper tycoon E. W. Scripps and half-brother of La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, moved into Braemar Manor, their elegant mansion on Mission Bay. A 1906 remodel of Braemar included a room built ‘especially for the pleasure’ of the different clubs she belonged to and thereafter Reading Club meetings were held regularly in Mrs. Scripps’ ‘cozy clubhouse’. Mrs. Scripps also held an annual musicale for the benefit of the club.

In 1905 Frances Haskins and her husband moved to Pacific Beach from Chicago and built the home that still stands at the corner of Diamond and Ingraham streets. Mrs. Haskins joined the reading club and was noted for her annual holiday receptions for club members and their guests, first ushering in the new year with good company and a good welcome in January 1908. When members and their friends were invited for another holiday reception in December 1908 over a hundred guests responded, having learned that ‘no greater treat was in store for them’. They were received by Mrs. Haskins, assisted by Mesdames Howard, Norris, Robinson and Pease, all handsomely gowned and showing the Christmas spirit. During the musical part of the program, Mrs. Haskins entertained the guests with many a merry tune on the gramophone.

The blocks surrounded by Grand Avenue and Lamont, Hornblend and Jewell streets had been part of a lemon ranch belonging to Sterling Honeycutt but when lemon ranching began to decline in the first years of the twentieth century Honeycutt sold these blocks to William and Hannah Pike; the block east of Kendall in 1903 and the block west of Kendall in 1904. In 1905 the Pikes sold the western quarter of the western block to Charles and Mary Boesch, who built the house still standing at the corner of Grand and Jewell in 1906. Hannah Pike and Mary Boesch both joined of the Reading Club, and Miss Ruth Boesch often performed as accompanist for the musical session at club meetings.

House built for the Boeschs in 1906 at Grand Avenue and Jewell Street.

A 1907 roster of the Pacific Beach Reading Club listed 30 members, including Mesdames Pike, Boesch, E. Y. Barnes, Haskins, Johnson, Johnston, Scripps and Snyder (Rose Hartwick Thorpe, Phoebe Barnes, Dr. Corey and others had moved away). Newer members included Helen Folsom and Lillian Dula, mother and sister of the Folsom brothers, whose Folsom Bros. Co. had purchased most of Pacific Beach in 1903. As the club grew it became more difficult to hold meetings in members’ homes and even in Mrs. Scripps’ clubhouse, and many meetings were held in the parlors of the Hotel Balboa, the former College of Letters building that had been renovated and reopened in 1904.  When that building was leased to Capt. Thomas A. Davis for his San Diego Army and Navy Academy in 1910, Capt. Davis continued to offer space for reading club functions.

However, the club increasingly felt the need for a place of its own and in February 1911 a ‘fancy delsarte entertainment’ was held at the academy with proceeds to be applied to a new clubhouse fund (in the Delsarte system of dramatic expression gestures and poses represented attitudes and emotions). The San Diego Beach Co. (formerly Folsom Bros. Co.) donated a pair of lots in Fortuna Park but the club chose to build on a site donated by the Pikes and the Boeschs, who each offered a lot from their adjacent properties on Hornblend. The Hornblend location had the advantage of being centrally located in the most developed portion of Pacific Beach at the time; it was within a block or two of the community’s two churches, the school, stores, post office, railway station and the Army and Navy Academy. Hornblend Street between Lamont and Jewell had been ‘sidewalked and curbed’ in 1908, one of the first streets in the community to receive these improvements.

In March 1911 a mass meeting was held to discuss plans for a new clubhouse on the donated lots and this enthusiastic meeting resulted in a material subscription toward the fund. The building fund was enhanced by the sale of the other donated lots and a pledge by workers of five days free labor. C. M. Doty, a concrete contractor whose wife was a club member, poured the sidewalk and Mr. Pike, who was a building contractor, supervised the construction.

Doty and Mitchell poured the sidewalk in front of the clubhouse. Mrs. Doty was a club member.

Plans for the new clubhouse were fully discussed at a meeting in April 1911 and the preliminary work was said to be progressing favorably. A meeting in June at the hall of the Army and Navy Academy discussed work on the new club building and scheduled executive meetings every week during what was normally the club’s summer vacation for the purpose of pushing work on the building. After a meeting in August at the home of Mrs. Pike the club reported that progress thus far had been most satisfactory but there remained many details to be finished. The club expected to be in its elegant new quarters in the autumn.

Formal opening of the new clubhouse and a ‘housewarming’, with an interesting musical and literary program and dainty refreshments, was scheduled for October 5, 1911, and invitations were extended to other woman’s clubs. The Los Angeles and San Diego Beach Railroad, as the local line to Pacific Beach and La Jolla was then known, announced that a special car would leave Fourth and C Streets at 7 o’clock, returning from Pacific Beach at 11 o’clock. The railway’s Pacific Beach station was on Grand Avenue just west of Lamont Street, about a block from the Reading Club’s new clubhouse (a trip originating at Fourth and C downtown would have been aboard a McKeen gasoline rail car – a Red Devil – since steam trains weren’t allowed on downtown streets).

The San Diego Union reported that the formal opening was a fine program and that the clubhouse had been filled with friends of the club from San Diego, La Jolla and National City, many of whom contributed substantially to the furnishing of the home. The club president, Mrs. Elizabeth Ravenscroft, spoke of the many kindnesses and the great amount of work accomplished in so short a time through the untiring efforts of Mrs. Lucy Woodward, who looked after all the details of the building.

The Reading Club held several other events for the benefit of the new clubhouse over the next few months, including a Halloween party, where witches, spooks and goblins reigned supreme and a December ‘dish shower’ to supply the new clubhouse with dishes. A large number of members were present and all came bearing packages which, upon being opened, revealed besides pretty chinaware a number of silver pieces. A concert for the clubhouse fund in April 1912 included a recitation by Rose Hartwick Thorpe herself of Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight, and also of her latest poem.

Rose Hartwick Thorpe had been the Reading Club’s first president, followed by Mary Snyder, Ida Johnston, Violet Conover and Elizabeth Ravenscroft, each of whom had served two or three years. At the annual business meeting in June 1912, Lucy Woodward was elected president, a position she held for twelve years. Coincidently or not, the Woodwards also moved to a site across the street from the clubhouse; their house was literally picked up from its previous address on Ingraham Street where Crown Point Elementary is now and put down on Hornblend Street.

The clubhouse of a reading club would seem like the natural place for a library, and in 1914 the club offered space in their building and their collection of books to the public library system. Club member Carrie Hinkle became the community’s first librarian and served for eight years. The clubhouse was also offered for other public services, including as a polling place.

The Reading Club had always been a woman’s club and was a founding member of the county Federation of Woman’s Clubs in 1898. During the 1920s it was increasingly referred to as the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club and in 1929 the members officially adopted the new name. The Pacific Beach Woman’s Club continued meeting at Hornblend Hall until 1962 when it moved to a new clubhouse on Soledad Road across from Kate Sessions Memorial Park, a building that is now the Soledad Club. The club retained ownership of Hornblend Hall, however, and in 1977 decided to return to its roots, the clubhouse built for the Pacific Beach Reading Club. Today’s Woman’s Club also recalls the heritage of its predecessor in other ways; the club color is lemon yellow, a lemon blossom is the club flower, its logo is a lemon branch and lemons form the background of its web site.