Jonathan Club Moving to Admit Women as Members

Times Staff Writer

One of Los Angeles' two leading private men's clubs, the Jonathan, appeared Friday to be moving toward the early admission of women as regular members, while the other, the California Club, continues to resist the idea.

A Jonathan Club official confirmed that after private discussions with Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and what was described as an "on-going process of our own," the club in the last month has taken a survey of its more than 3,000 male members on the question of admitting women.

While the results of the survey are not to be tabulated until Tuesday night, the immediate past president of the club, Richard O. Oxford, said Friday that regardless of the outcome the club's board of directors will feel free to "determine what action if any it will take."

Oxford added: "Times are changing. We'll know more in the next couple of weeks. . . . The board could announce it is open and encouraging to the sponsorship of women as members."

The club admitted its first two black members in recent months, according to club officials.

The club's current president, Donald E. Butler, the general counsel, John R. Shiner, and the general manager, Charles R. Walter Jr., are all said to be in favor of establishing a new policy on the admission of women, perhaps as early as the next board meeting Tuesday night.

Jonathan Club entry fees are $10,000 and monthly dues are $165. The club, like the California Club and a number of exclusive clubs in San Francisco and Sacramento, is viewed as a key place for discussing business, and business and professional people excluded from it in the past have often felt themselves at a career disadvantage.

Oxford said, "There's nothing in the bylaws that preclude women from being sponsored" now for membership in the 92-year-old club, which has facilities in downtown Los Angeles and on the beach at Santa Monica. But, he added, no women have ever been sponsored, although widows of members have the right to use club facilities.

Meanwhile, Bradley's legal counsel, Mark D. Fabiani, quoted the mayor as saying he had not been informed that the Jonathan Club was taking a survey on women but that he had been told when the first black member was admitted.

Fabiani said that since late last year Bradley has also been talking with leading members of the California Club. "He has repeatedly urged officials of both clubs to change their membership policies promptly on a voluntary basis," he said.

The mayor's counsel noted that Bradley has been supportive of efforts on the city level to draft an ordinance that would outlaw racial, religious and sex discrimination by the clubs. Such an ordinance, being worked into final form by City Controller Rick Tuttle and City Councilwoman Joy Picus, is scheduled for a council committee hearing May 6.

But, Fabiani added, "the mayor has always felt the clubs should change their discriminatory policies out of conscience rather than out of legal coercion. . . . He has been speaking to the club officials along these lines all the time."

Bradley has long followed a policy of not attending functions at the Jonathan and California clubs and has told aides in his Administration not to do so.

Strides in Last Year

As for the Jonathan Club, a member of a "PR committee" formed in the last year to consider minority and women membership issues said Friday that the club has made strides in the last year on the admission of members from all major minority groups in the city--including Jews, Asians and Latinos, as well as blacks--and that admitting women is very close.

"The Jonathan Club is moving on all these issues," said the member, who asked not to be identified. On the question of women, he said, "the California Club is intransigent and stonewalling. It will be the last to go."

The current president of the California Club, Lawrence P. Day, called for comment, did not respond himself. A woman caller who declined to identify herself but said she is not Day's secretary said he will not say anything.

But a California Club board member who spoke this week on condition that he not be identified said it is possible that the club may act eventually to admit women and expand admission of minorities as regular members, if it is agreed with Bradley that the proposed city ordinance will be dropped.

"In Detroit, the City Council adopted an ordinance much like the one that has been adopted in New York and is proposed here," the board member said. "But (Detroit) Mayor Coleman Young vetoed it, saying the clubs should be given the opportunity for six months to act on their own. . . . The clubs opened up their membership, they simply took in several black people and the ordinance idea was dropped. . . ."

"It would be much better if you didn't have legislation," the board member continued, indicating that there is intense discussion going on behind the scenes at the California Club on what to do. He said that what the Jonathan Club is doing is being carefully watched.

All-Male Emphasis

At the same time, however, the board member stressed that in the view of California Club members such as himself, the club has laid much greater stress on being a male club than the Jonathan Club has and that he personally would not look forward to seeing full-fledged women members, although there are special dining rooms and other facilities for wives and widows of members.

The board member said many wives of California Club members oppose having women admitted to the club, because they fear they might lose their husbands to them. A golf club that admitted its first woman member found within three months that she had broken up a marriage, the board member said.

The next day the same board member expressed bitterness that outsiders seeking to change admission policies at the clubs do not appear to value what he termed a constitutional right to associate only with those one chooses.

He ended the conversation with a prediction that none of the other leaders of the California Club will agree to talk with The Times on the subject of the present discriminatory policies. Numerous calls to board members were not returned.

Some knowledgeable people, both inside and outside the club, said the interview was indicative of the intransigent mood in the club, although they noted that even this board member was holding open the possibility of change. The California Club, they noted, says in its bylaws that it is an all-male club.

One attorney who is a member of both clubs said the simple fact is that not having women members has become inconvenient. He said that many of the city's leading law firms have an increasing number of women associates, as the number of women law graduates rises year by year, and that some firms have stopped, for reasons of tact, having meetings at the California and Jonathan clubs. Many women in his firm object going to the clubs, he said.

Fees About the Same

The California Club reportedly has no black members. A source close to Bradley said that the club offered a membership to attorney Sam Williams, a former chairman of the city Police Commission and a close friend of Bradley, but that he turned it down. A second black applied, but was not accepted, the source said.

Entry fees at the California Club, which has 1,275 Los Angeles members, are reported to be about the same as the Jonathan Club. Monthly dues at the California Club are $210.

As the issue comes to a boil in Los Angeles, it is also a subject of increased discussion in San Francisco, where the Board of Supervisors is considering an ordinance to force clubs of 400 or more members to drop discriminatory admission policies.

"It is being discussed at some length" in his club, said Scott Loring, president of the 117-year-old Olympic Club in the Bay City. "It has to be. We'd be dumb if we weren't talking about it."

Loring said there will have to be extensive remodeling of the club's athletic facility before women can be admitted.

The gymnasium is also a big issue in the prospective admission of women at the Jonathan Club. One member said he believes that the freedom to use the gym in a state of considerable undress is a main reason why some members still oppose bringing women into the club.

Times staff writers Dan Morain in San Francisco and Mary Louise Oates in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
63°