The Little Town Club is located in a picturesque building at 27 East Carrillo Street. The inspiration of Mrs. Charles C. Park, this exclusive private club has served as a meeting place for “women with similar tastes and backgrounds” since its founding in 1914.
Helen Park arrived in this area with her husband in the early 1890s, and the family eventually settled in Montecito. Dr. Charles C. Park was deeply interested in California history, and he wrote two novels around this subject. Mr. and Mrs. Park were both very much involved in the community. Mrs. Park was a member of the charitable St. Cecilia Society and Neighborhood House. She underwrote the latter’s Santa Barbara Free Market, which distributed farm produce to the needy.
The couple loved to entertain and Helen Park’s friends and associates were many. It began to dawn on her that she and her friends really did not have a place where they could go to socialize. As an early history of the club put it, “There should be a meeting place in town for people who wished to meet for lunch, to check their parcels, pick up or leave messages, to bring their children in case they had appointments, and also a place where the members could play cards, read or write.” After all, the men had their exclusive Santa Barbara Club; why shouldn’t the women of the town enjoy something similar?
For a time the luncheon room at the State Street gourmet grocery Diehl’s had served these purposes. Then the crowd from the Flying A Studio, which had set up shop in Santa Barbara in 1912, discovered Diehl’s. The atmosphere became a bit too boisterous and the genteel ladies looked elsewhere for a gathering place.
Despite the objections of some of the husbands, who thought the proposed club would simply become a center for gossip, plans were pushed forward. On August 8, 1914, Helen Park and two friends, Julia Redington Wilson and Mrs. Arthur Alexander, met at the latter’s house at 1520 Chapala Street. Invitations were sent out, and on August 20 around 25 women met to form the Town and Country Club, named after a similar organization in San Francisco. The first clubhouse was the Orella Adobe at 1029 State Street.
By November 1915, the club had 47 members. The initiation fee was $25, and lunches cost 50 cents. Members were required to telephone before 10 a.m. in order to reserve a place for luncheon for that day. A change in the governance of the club took place when the group received an angry letter from its San Francisco namesake, protesting the locals’ use of the name. The club switched to a more formal officer/board arrangement to better manage affairs and changed the name to Little Town Club.
The next order of business was to find larger quarters. Members cast their eye upon a piece of property at 27 East Carrillo Street, owned by local attorney Charles Thompson. Thompson refused to rent the site to the club and proved a tough negotiator over a purchase price. Club members hit upon the idea of selling bonds to themselves to raise money. Each bond cost $100, paying 6-percent interest. The club bought the property for $8,500 and, over the next few months, raised almost another $10,000 to buy additional lots and remodel the building. At about the same time, the club officially incorporated.
Mrs. Park also initiated the practice of luncheon speakers. During these early years, the First World War was a major topic. One speaker was a woman from Poland whose house had been occupied by the commander of the German forces, Paul von Hindenburg, and his staff. Hindenburg eventually became the president of Germany.
The clubhouse has undergone major transformations and additions over the years. One of the most significant occurred in 1923, when the club engaged George Washington Smith, the area’s best-known architect, to completely redo the building. The result was a wonderful example of Smith’s artistry in the Spanish-Colonial architectural style.
In 2004, the Little Town Club celebrated its 90th anniversary. It is one of the oldest women’s organizations in Santa Barbara.
Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Society, will answer your questions about Santa Barbara’s history. Write him c/o The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.