Saving Blue Book From Ultimate Snub : Society: Allegra Yust couldn’t just stand by and watch another tradition die. So she grabbed the publishing reins of the social register.
The Los Angeles Blue Book, the Society Register of Southern California, was on its way out--a goner, finito. Its former caretaker decided to stop publishing it recently, destining the book for ghosthood, just like Bullocks Wilshire, the Pan Pacific and pony rides at what is now the Beverly Center.
But Allegra Yust couldn’t stand the thought of losing another tradition. After reading a newspaper story about its imminent demise, she took over the chubby little blue-bound volume several weeks ago. It debuted in 1917 and is a who’s who of elite Angelenos, complete with family names, addresses, phone numbers and club affiliations.
Yust isn’t exactly what you might picture when you think social registry.
She is 25, for one thing. She reads Wired magazine, listens to music at such local clubs as the Viper Room and occasionally punctuates sentences with cool.
But don’t peg Yust as an MTV generation spokeswoman, either. She’s a mix of past and present culture, like the huge, humming computer that sits on an antique table in her Hancock Park apartment.
“I’m kind of a freak about history and timekeeping,” she says. “It’s fascinating to see all the people and the kids and who marries who, and who dies. I feel like a timekeeper, putting everyone’s name in the book.”
For her, the Blue Book is not so much country club memberships and sorority affiliations as a record of a city whose history is quickly eroding.
“I really am attached to a lot of old things, a lot of traditions. I’m more traditional than I ever thought I was. Like when Bullocks Wilshire closed--that was really sad! I mean, I know it’s a department store, but when you went there before Christmas, was that the most beautiful hallway? And anyone could go up to the tearoom and they had the coolest desserts and sandwiches and stuff like that. I don’t know, it was just really sad.”
Her appreciation of the Blue Book was fueled by seeing her name in it long before she became its editor.
“We grew up with it in my house,” says Yust, who sports not a speck of makeup and wears her long hair loose. “I saw it in a positive light. My mom was very involved with American Ballet Theatre, and when she did fund raising, she’d look through the book for people to invite, people she knew were interested in the arts.”
Mother Clara was also consul general to Colombia for about 10 years, and father Larry is a film director/producer/writer.
Flowers from her mother’s garden perfume the spacious apartment she shares with older brother Alex and two black cats, Arthur and Merlin.
Her father’s photographs and her grandfather’s paintings decorate the walls. The bookcases are filled with Ken Kesey, Colette, Shakespeare, Jim Carroll, Zora Neale Hurston and two volumes of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, the legacy of all English majors (she was one at UC Berkeley).
But as a woman who has grown up in an age where “politically correct” has become, well, politically correct, she must have plans for making future editions more egalitarian?
Yes and no.
The method of gaining entry to the book will remain the same--two recommendations from current members, who tend to tap friends and business associates with similar backgrounds. A $40 annual fee covers the price of the book, which is distributed to members only. Yust gets to keep whatever is left over; it probably won’t be much.
She will also scout for potential entries on her own. “I sent out some invitations to people I noticed in the paper, who participate in L.A., who should be included. (I’m looking for) someone who’s active in the arts, the community, who has been here for a while, who is planning on staying here. And I’m really looking for younger people because a lot of older people have been dying. I think it’s important to find people under 40, and that’s why I want to go back and look for the kids in the old Blue Books.”
Might some react with rolled eyes at being included in the social register?
“The initial reaction is often that,” she admits. “I told a friend of mine, ‘You should have your own listing,’ and she said, ‘I don’t know.’ But I think she thought about it and said, ‘That might be cool.’
“The word society puts people off, but there are a lot of positive aspects to it. These are people who are very involved with L.A. and arts and education and community involvement, and you can’t really deny that.”
Margaret Eley, retired director of the California Historical Society, believes the register is important for the sense of community it offers.
“I would say there’s more of a need for it now, really,” she says. “I think more people are trying to put down roots.”
While she doesn’t deny that the basic premise of the Blue Book is elitist, Yust vigorously defends its existence.
“It is elitist,” she says. “Any kind of roster or club or address book kind of thing is elitist--obviously you’re not including every single person who resides in Los Angeles. But there’s a purpose behind it. . . . You look through the book and you see all the families’ names that you see on the walls of the hospitals, the museums, the Music Center, and you say, ‘All right, they’re better off and they come from a different family, but at least they’re giving something back to the city.’ ”
She’s mulling over other changes for future editions: cross-indexing some families, listing members’ colleges, and geographically subdividing Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Pasadena.
Some members rely on the book, she says, when planning charities and events. “They use it for invitations, for business or personal contacts. I think some people just use it for their Christmas cards. It kind of becomes their address book.”
Marcia Hobbs, president of Hobbs-Nelson Marketing and Communications Inc., turns to the book for phone numbers. “I belong to a lot of different groups, and having to keep rosters is less convenient than using the Blue Book. Or I’ll use it for business when I’m trying to remember an address. . . . And every once in a while I’ll forget somebody’s child’s name, so I’ll look to see if their children are listed.”
Yust has set up her computer to log the thousands of names that will become the 1995 volume.
“I’m a good organizer,” she says. “I like to sit and alphabetize my books.”
Her job history bears that out: She was managing editor of the Los Angeles Masterplanner, a monthly newsletter that lists benefits and major events, and worked on a book about the performing arts.
Today, the Blue Book, tomorrow . . . her own publishing company?
That’s one goal. Law school is another.
“I don’t really want to become a lawyer,” she says, “I just need the basic knowledge. It’s important to know law, that way no one can do anything to you.”
Yust credits her parents with giving her the drive and backbone to attempt all this.
“They’re amazing,” Yust says, shaking her head. “It’s always been, ‘Go out and do what you want to do.’ At times it amazes me that they did as much as they did. Now there are so many opportunities, you can do anything you want. There’s nothing stopping you.”