The Los Angeles Breakfast Club nearly disappeared — now it’s trying to reclaim its Griffith Park home

Name tag medallions hanging on a wall.
Name tag medallions for members of the Los Angeles Breakfast Club, established in 1925.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

At 7 a.m. on a recent Wednesday morning, the parking lot of the Shrine of Friendship Auditorium off of Riverside Drive in Los Feliz is full of dozens of cars, some of which sport Los Angeles Breakfast Club license plate frames. Inside, the nearly 100-year-old club convenes: Its current president, Nora Vetter, addresses a buzzy room of about 100 people from around L.A., seated at long tables set with paper placemats and silver carafes full of hot black coffee next to white cups of creamer packets.

A hand using a spatula to shuffle hash browns around on a griddle.
Heaping piles of hash browns, part of the weekly breakfast service at the Los Angeles Breakfast Club.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

“Good morning, Ham!” exclaims Vetter.

“Good morning, Egg!” the group chants in response.

Nearly a century since its inception as a meeting place for businessmen to have breakfast after horseback riding along the trails of Griffith Park, the Los Angeles Breakfast Club is thriving despite its near-demise almost a decade ago, when only nine members remained.

“I saw a picture of Red Skelton performing at the club in the 1940s, on the last page of the SAG-AFTRA magazine,” says member and former L.A. Breakfast Club president Lily Holleman Leirness, an actress, of how she discovered the quirky group in 2013.

“They were still game. They were still producing this full meeting every single week. The issue was they didn’t know how to bring new people in.”

Holleman Leirness began to spread the word. “I brought a few of my friends who I knew would love it, and they did.” She also recognized the group’s lack of web presence. “If something’s not online, it’s as if it didn’t exist.” So she posted about it on social media, and eventually the club grew to more than 100 members with more age diversity.

A woman standing and holding her hands up high amidst other people, doing the same.
Morning stretch: Guests get in some exercise as the Los Angeles Breakfast Club convenes at Friendship Auditorium in Griffith Park.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Despite its increase in membership and popular programming (such as prominent guest speakers — from politicians to entertainers to art historians — who voluntarily provide presentations every week), the club is facing its biggest hurdle yet. Its 50-year lease from the city on the Shrine of Friendship Auditorium — the spacious, vaulted-ceiling facility that is often rented out for weddings and events — has expired.

“It would be a mistake were they to place us in a category with other organizations that want to rent the building,” says Holleman Leirness. “We don’t have the same luxury as other organizations that can exist anywhere. The club is the building, and without it, we would not be the same club. Our chandeliers light the hall, our Shrine of Friendship sign greets every guest, our clock keeps time for every event. The auditorium is imbued with our 97-year history. Were we to be priced out so that we could no longer stay there, we would no longer be the Los Angeles Breakfast Club.

A woman shaking hands with someone off-camera.
Los Angeles Breakfast Club member Joanna Linkchorst greets guests at the door.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

“It started out here on this land,” she says of the grounds that now belongs to Griffith Park and L.A.‘s Department of Recreation and Parks. Original members of the club included studio moguls Louis B. Mayer, Jack and Harry Warner and Cecil B. DeMille.

In the 1930s, the club moved to the Ambassador Hotel, where it held meetings weekly, and it eventually built a clubhouse at 3207 Los Feliz Blvd. that thrived until 1965, when the group returned to its original location.

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At the time, there was no meeting hall for Griffith Park. The city of Los Angeles owned the land, so a deal was struck. “The Breakfast Club said, ‘We’ll build the Friendship Auditorium, pay for it and give it to you in exchange for using the space for free every Wednesday morning and one Sunday night a month,’” says Holleman Leirness of the now-expired 50-year-deal.

Stefanie Smith, superintendent of Recreation and Parks Operations for the Griffith region, confirmed in an email that “long ago, the Breakfast Club undertook the expense of constructing Friendship Auditorium on City parkland as a gift to the city.”

A woman sprinkling salt over her breakfast at the end of a buffet line.
The breakfast buffet kick offs the meeting.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Smith also confirmed that in return for the gift and $1 per year, the city gave the club a 50-year agreement that afforded it use of the auditorium, and that they are now working on a new long-term, nonexclusive use agreement for the Breakfast Club’s Wednesday morning meetings that would also give the club use of the property for special events. She is confident that the club will be able to negotiate a rate that works for it and believes that the club adds value to the community and city as a whole.

“There are all these people from interesting, diverse backgrounds. I think it’s awesome for getting to know people in different contexts and not just in bubbles. Because we all travel in tight little bubbles or circles. It sort of widens your horizons without being religious,” says Ben Thurmond, 44, a government business development manager for a tech company, who upon moving to the neighborhood discovered the club after googling nearby breakfast restaurants. “I saw the website and I’m like, ‘This looks weird. I have to see it.’ The way I would put it is if David Lynch, Garrison Keillor and Wes Anderson decided to curate a networking event, this is pretty much what it would be,” he says.

The group was formed in 1925 as a parody of the Masons and other brotherhood organizations. This means the morning is filled with codes, secret handshakes and hidden meanings. Its rituals include member initiations that involve sitting on a wooden horse blindfolded while placing one hand in a plate of runny eggs.


A man sits on a wooden horse blindfolded while one hand grips the fake horse's tail and the other hand is dipped into eggs.
Nora Vetter, right, president of the club, administers a club oath to new member Dave Egan, blindfolded, sitting on a wooden horse in a traditional Breakfast Club initiation ceremony.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

“The president swears them into the Democracy of Ham and Eggs. And it’s a kind of a tongue-in-cheek, personalized oath for each member,” explains Holleman Leirness.

At a recent meeting, club president Vetter is adorned in a headband with a plastic champagne flute attached to it, a nod to the meeting’s guest lecture by art curator Joes Segal, “Art and Alcohol,” that will follow the daily rituals. First, she announces the business at hand: raffle tickets and group field trips.

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The tables are full of a few new guests and mostly regular members, some of whom have been coming here every Wednesday morning for decades and some who have joined in recent years, seeking community in the wake of the pandemic. The club attracts people from all kinds of backgrounds, from actors to florists to tech company executives. For a small fee of $25 for guests and $18 for members, anyone can attend an L.A. Breakfast Club meeting, though visiting guests are encouraged to share interesting facts about themselves and are then loudly and publicly introduced.

The meetings begin with a catered buffet breakfast, which includes eggs and other staples like yogurt, fruit and pastries. It is safe to say that the heart of the L.A. Breakfast Club is not the breakfast itself but all of the things that follow: friendly banter; a pun-filled, vintage variety show with silly rituals; bizarre traditions; sing-alongs to songs from the ’20s and ’30s accompanied by live piano; and a special guest presentation. These have included everything from U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (though the group is officially nonpolitical) to humorist Charles Phoenix and film historian Leonard Maltin.


A large board wheeled onto the stage that displays a weekly riddle.
A large board wheeled onto the stage at Friendship Auditorium displays the coded chant of the Los Angeles Breakfast Club.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

At some point in the morning, a large wooden cryptogram is wheeled out onto the stage. The original board along with the wooden horse from 1934 is currently on display at the “Something in Common” exhibition at the Central Library — the ones being used at meetings are replicas. The crowd chants the code:

F-V-N-E-M? (Have we any ham?)

S-V-F-M (Yes, we have ham)

F-V-N-E-X? (Have we any eggs?)

S-V-F-X (Yes, we have eggs)

O-I-C-V-F-M-N-X! (Oh, I see we have ham and eggs!)

“We’re just trying to figure something out that actually works for the city and works for us,” says club board member Michael Hain of the process, which includes writing a letter to the Board of Commissioners to petition for a lower weekly rate. Hain has built a relationship with Council District 4 (Nithya Raman’s district) through his involvement with Los Feliz Neighborhood Council.

The inside of an auditorium, with people sitting at tables eating.
Los Angeles Breakfast Club members gather at Friendship Auditorium.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

“We have to now explain to the parks commissioners why we’re a value to the community,” says Holleman Leirness. “For me, it’s a grounding agent in a city that can be very transient. It tethers me to community and makes me feel supported and a part of the city’s history and opens my heart every morning to connection and friendship and love.”

VIDEO | 05:06
LA Times Today: L.A. Breakfast Club reclaims its home in Griffith Park

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