Editor's note: This corrects the ownership of the Woman's Club building.
Two days after a fire eliminated most of the Woman's Club of Huntington Beach, the club's program chairwoman said she feared a century's worth of artifacts had burned in the blaze.
Elaine Craft, who is also the club's second vice president, said among the items presumed lost were an antique grand piano, dishes the club once served lunches on and paper records that extended back decades.
"That was just it," Craft said. "The whole thing was gutted."
Craft and Treasurer Rosemary Trout said club members were in the process of deciding their next steps as their insurance company evaluated the damage and officials investigated the cause of the fire. Monday afternoon, Craft said, some of the club's leaders had a meeting and agreed that they wanted to rebuild the clubhouse if city codes permit it.
More than 50 firefighters from the Huntington Beach Fire Department and others responded about 3 a.m. Saturday to the club at 420 10th St., where an intense fire had started and begun to spread to the houses on either side.
The Woman's Club, which was vacant at the time of the fire, burned nearly to the ground. No injuries to firefighters or residents were reported, Deputy Fire Marshal Jeff Lopez said.
Wednesday, Lopez said the cause of the fire was still under investigation.
"All I can say right now is they're continuing to investigate, and there was no smoking gun anywhere to make us necessarily suspect foul play," he said. "But as with any of our fires, they'll do a full investigation."
The structure was owned by the Woman’s Club and used for club meetings and other events. Craft said after the club's centennial celebration, members of other women's clubs left congratulatory messages on the walls inside.
Mayor Joe Carchio, who said his mother-in-law was affiliated with the club for years, called the building's destruction a loss to the community.
"It's a sad day for us," he said. "A landmark like that that's been around for a long time meant so much to so many people who are just an integral part of our city, and it's really a loss to the city. I'm sorry it happened."
According to local historian Chris Jepsen, the Woman's Club moved into the building in 1916 and remodeled it with an addition in back 10 years later. The building itself, originally a surplus school property, dates to 1910.
The Woman's Club, Jepsen said, was active in Huntington Beach's early years, helping to establish the city's first library and hosting educational programs for women, a rarity at the time.
"They were part of a larger movement in the U.S.," said Jepsen, an assistant archivist for Orange County. "The women's clubs and the Federation of Women's Clubs were something that really came out of the post-Civil War years. They were all over the country, and they did this kind of thing in communities all over America.
"With a new town starting up, somehow it was almost expected that a group like this would rise up and meet these challenges, and luckily, we did end up with one to do that."
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