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Santa Monica's First Black Women's Clubhouse Designated a Historic Landmark


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By Jorge Casuso

April 19, 2024 -- A modest commercial building in the Pico neighborhood that served as a meeting hall for Santa Monica's oldest active Black women's club is now a historic landmark.

Philomathean Club building
Philomathean Club building (Photo courtesy Page & Turnbull)

The City's Landmarks Commission on April 8 unanimously voted to award local landmark status to the one-story building at 1810 Broadway built as a clubhouse for the Philomathean Club in 1958.

The Commission found that the structure "exemplifies the established and growing African American community in the Pico neighborhood prior to the construction of the 1-10 freeway."

It also found the building qualified "for its association with" the Philomathean Club, which was established in 1921, making it one of the oldest Black women's clubs in Southern California.

The designation "marks the culmination of several years’ effort" by the Philomathean Charity Literary & Art Club, the Quinn Research Center (QRC) and the Santa Monica Conservancy, Conservancy officials said Friday.

Built in a "modest mid-century modern style, the building contained a hall and kitchen intended to host meetings and celebrations as well as a barber shop and a beauty salon which still generate income for the Club’s work which still serves the local community," Conservancy officials said.

When the landmarks designation was filed last October, Carolyne Edwards, a Philomathean Club member who sits on the Conservancy Board said the structure "visually represents a century of charitable deeds provided to people in Santa Monica and other communities."

Philomathean Charity Club Founding Sisters
Philomathean Charity Club Founding Sisters (Courtesy Santa Monica Public Library Image Archives)
The Philomathean Club building is the first designated landmark on a stretch of Broadway between 14th and 20th Streets that was "one of several lively hubs of Black life in Santa Monica," according to the Quinn Research Center (QRC), which promotes Black family history and culture in the Santa Monica Bay area.

The structure, which currently houses a private preschool, was originally built as a meeting hall that included two retail spaces, allowing the club "to engage in community building while paying their mortgage," Conservancy officials said..

After the mortgage was paid in 1970, the rental income from the property has been directed into a college scholarship program for Black high school students.

The landmark designation will change the way the modest building is seen, Edwards predicted.

"It will tell the story about seven ladies who had a dream that has multiplied over the years and is still being carried on by current members,” said Edwards, a co-founder of the QRC.

"Soon people will see the corner of 18th and Broadway in a more meaningful way, and future generations will have the opportunity to know this history,” she said.

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