Ebell of Los Angeles
Ebell of Los Angeles
Ebell of Los Angeles, Wilshire frontage
|Location||743 S. Lucerne Blvd., Los Angeles, California|
|Architect||Hunt, Sumner P.; Schofield Engineering & Construction|
|Architectural style||Italian Renaissance|
|NRHP Reference #||94000401|
|Added to NRHP||May 6, 1994|
The complex has been owned and operated since 1927 by the Ebell of Los Angeles women's club, which was formed in Los Angeles in 1894 or 1897. Since 1927, the Wilshire Ebell Theatre has hosted musical performances and lectures by world leaders and top artists. Among other events, the Ebell was the site of aviator Amelia Earhart's last public appearance before attempting the 1937 around-the-world flight during which she disappeared, and the place where Judy Garland was discovered while performing as Baby Frances Gumm in the 1930s.
Formation and early years
Ebell of Los Angeles was formed as a women's club in 1894, based on the principles and teachings of Adrian Ebell, a pioneer in women's education and organizing women's societies in the late 19th century. Harriet Williams Russell Strong was a founder of the club, serving as its president for three consecutive terms. The minutes of the first meeting of Ebell of Los Angeles identify its purpose "to interest women in the study of all branches of literature, art and science and the advancement of women in every branch of culture." The club adopted as its motto, "I will find a way or make one -- I serve."
Over the years, the group has conducted classes, and hosted lectures and seminars, on topics including psychology, parliamentary law, travel, literature, music, gardening and science. Even before moving to its current quarters, it actively promoted the arts, as when from May 23 to July 25, 1919 it sponsored a marathon ten-week series of chamber music recitals by the Zoellner Quartet.
New building on Wilshire Boulevard
In 1923, the group announced plans to build a new clubhouse and theater west of downtown on Wilshire Boulevard. Before construction began, the lot at Wilshire Boulevard and Shatto Place had appreciated in value and was sold for a profit; a new lot at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Lucerne was purchased in 1925.
The group commissioned architect Sumner P. Hunt of Hunt & Burns to design the new facility, which was designed in an Italian style with plaster facing and Italian clay tile roofing. The new facilities consisted of multiple structures covering a site 160 x 450 feet, surrounding a 65 x 120 feet patio area. The new facilities included a new 1,300-seat auditorium at the rear of the property facing 8th Street. The two-story structure facing Wilshire Boulevard houses the group's clubhouse, including a large lounge, art salon, and dining room. The dining room opens to a tile-roofed colonnade walkway and fountain.
The clubhouse opened with a musicale tea in October 1927, and the Wilshire Ebell Theater, originally known as the Windsor Square Playhouse, opened to the public in December 1927 with the west coast premiere of Sigmund Romberg's musical The Desert Song. When the buildings opened, the group's president wrote in the club's newsletter:
"The result of their tireless and unceasing labor may be seen at 4400 Wilshire Boulevard where a stately group of buildings now adorns a sightly eminence. The separated units have been so carefully designed as to form a magnificent mass, a colossal edifice, severely simple, classically correct, pleasing in its very ruggedness, elegant in its ornate adornment, suited to the purpose for which it was built."
The total cost was $200,000 for the site, $650,000 for the entire structure, and $120,000 for the furnishings. Another writer observed: "Nowhere in America is there a more magnificent women's club house than the new home of Ebell. ... Every modern convenience and appliance, together with furnishings of the finest quality, are within its walls. It is lavish, but not flamboyantly so. It is practical and it has beauty and inspiring charm."
The 1,300-seat theater is known for its acoustics and its Barton pipe organ. The Los Angeles Times in 2003 described the theater as "the grande dame of genteel grace," "a cultural centerpiece for Los Angeles," and "one of the area's most striking" auditoriums.
In more than eighty years of productions, the Wilshire Ebell has witnessed performances by many stars and celebrities, but some stand out from the rest.
- Young Judy Garland, then known as Baby Frances Gumm, first auditioned on the Wilshire Ebell Theater stage, and was discovered while performing there. MGM producer George Sidney later described Garland's first audition this way: "I had made Judy's first screen test. There was a theater here in Los Angeles called the Wilshire-Ebell. ... [T]hey used to put on vaudeville acts on certain nights of the week. This little girl came out with her two sisters and her mother playing the piano. She did a little number with a baseball bat. We took her out to the studio and made a test on a soundstage..." And in his biography of Garland, Gerold Frank described an early performance on the Wilshire Ebell stage, witnessed by another MGM producer, Joseph L. Mankiewicz: "Judy sang. And in his seat, Joe Mankiewicz, who was to win half a dozen Oscars as a screenwriter and director, underwent a memorable experience. He sat transfixed. Not only the power, but something electric ..." Mankewicz met the 13-year-old Garland backstage at the Ebell and determined to bring her name to the studio's attention.
- In 1937, Amelia Earhart made her last public appearance and speech at the Ebell before leaving for her ill-fated around-the-world flight.
- On April 10, 1964, Glenn Gould gave his final public performance at the Ebell, spending the rest of his public life in the recording studio. Among the pieces he performed that night were Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 30, selections from Bach's The Art of Fugue, and the Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 92 No. 4 by Ernst Krenek. Oddly, a recording exists in which Gould claims the event took place in Chicago.
- Two years before his assassination, Filipino opposition leader and Ferdinand Marcos critic Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. held a memorable freedom rally speech at the theater on February 15, 1981; sharing his life and struggle under the martial law dictatorship for the jam-packed crowd of Filipino and American audience.
Renovation and historic designation
A major restoration of the Ebell complex commenced in 1989. The theater's seats were recovered, the stage refitted, and new sound and lighting systems installed. Renovation work also extended to the main dining room (also known as the Concert Hall), the Grand Salon/Lounge, the Galleria, and the Art Salon.
In recent years, the events held at the Wilshire Ebell Theater have reflected the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood, with shows staged in Persian, Korean and Russian. It has also been the site of annual "Divas Simply Singing" benefits for AIDS, featuring singers Nancy Wilson, Roberta Flack, Rita Moreno, and Toni Tennille.
The building has been designated as a historic structure at the local, state and national levels, including the following recognition:
- The Ebell was declared a Los Angeles Cultural Historic Monument in 1982.
- It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
- It has also been designated an Official American Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
- Ebell Club of Santa Paula, California
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Los Angeles
- List of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments in the Wilshire and Westlake areas
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15.
- Jennier Steinhauer, "A Sanctuary for Women, Even Today", New York Times, Aug. 9, 2010.
- "Ebell's History Is Rich in Culture, Philanthropy". The Ebell of Los Angeles. June 1994.
- Bob Pool (2003-11-27). "Surroundings Wilshire District: Showplace From Another Era Is an Active Heirloom; Built by women, the Wilshire Ebell Theare has been a beehive of entertainment and learning since 1927". Los Angeles Times.
- University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa Digital Library, advertisement for Zoellner Quartet from Musical America, August 16, 1919, accessed June 3, 2012.
- "Activities and Interests of Women, in and Outside of Homes: Ebell to Build New Home; Spacious lot on boulevard acquired by directors; construction of $500,000 structure planned". Los Angeles Times. 1923-02-16.
- "Ebell Highlights". Los Angeles Public Library. 1969-07-10.
- "Ebell Obtains Building Site: Handsome Lot Purchased on Wilshire Corner; Campaign for Clubhouse to Open This Fall". Los Angeles Times. 1925-08-16.
- "Of Interest to Women: Ebell Building Starts at Once; Location Wilshire Boulevard at Burck Place; Property Will Have Value of $1,225,000; Club's Investments Have Realized Profits". Los Angeles Times. 1925-10-21.
- "Hunt Named Ebell Club Architect: Work on New Building at Lucerne and Wilshire to Await Plans Completion". Los Angeles Times. 1926-03-13.
- "Ebell Club to Start Building: Work on New Structure to Begin Next Month; Cost of Enterprise Placed at $700,000; Contract Awarded as Plans Are Completed". Los Angeles Times. 1926-11-21.
- "Ebell Lays Its Corner-Stone: Club Women Conduct Rites at Wilshire Building; Mrs. William Read Gives History of Function; Contractors and Architects Join in Ceremony". Los Angeles Times. 1927-03-01.
- "Clubhouse to Open with Tea: Ebell Schedules First Event in Home October 3; Initial Week Reserved for Members Only; Musicale to Follow Honor Reception Hour". Los Angeles Times. 1927-09-11.
- "Los Angeles Ebell Club's New Home on Wilshire Dedicated: Tribute Paid to President; Packed Auditorium Listens to Little Symphony; Education Fund Donated by Flints Acknowledged; First Department Luncheon to be Held Today". Los Angeles Times. 1927-10-04.
- "Musical Tea to be First Ebell Party: Launch Ebell Fall Program with Brilliant Afternoon Function". Ebell. October 1927.
- "Wilshire Ebell Theater Is Scene of Premiere Musical, Theatre Events". The Ebell of Los Angeles. June 1994.
- "The President's Greeting: Ebell Enters Period of Dazzling Enterprise, Says Mrs. Read". Ebell. October 1927.
- "Marking Another Ebell Milestone: New Edifice Stands as One of America's Finest Club Buildings". Ebell. October 1927.
- "Adrians, Juniors Assist in Furthering Ebel Programs". The Ebell of Los Angeles. June 1994.
- Ronald L. Davis (2005). Just making movies: company directors on the studio system, p. 71. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-691-3.
- Gerold Frank (1999). Judy, p. 57. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80894-3.
- Ron Larson. "A Convergence of Legends at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre". Masters of Harmony.
- "Wilshire Ebell Theater". LA.com.
- Bazzana, Kevin (2004). Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 22. ISBN 0-19-517440-2..
- "YouTube - An NATv EXCLUSIVE: Ninoy Aquino's memorable speech in Los Angeles! (1 of 9)". Youtube.com. Retrieved 2009-01-15.
- "Restoration Committee Returns Building to Original Elegance". The Ebell of Los Angeles. June 1994.