In Hancock Park and Windsor Square and surrounding communities, few secular institutions can match The Ebell of Los Angeles in its longevity, community presence, and commitment to its original mission. Founded in 1894, the Ebell moved into its current Sumner Hunt-designed Italian Pavilion on Wilshire and Lucerne Boulevards in 1927. For nearly a century, the pavilion and theater not only housed the Ebell and its mission, but have become an important community. hub and gathering place hosting social, cultural, political and private events, playing an important role in the history of the community and the city.
As the club approaches the centennial of its historic campus, Ebell’s management has developed an ambitious master plan to ensure its preservation and protection for the next 100 years.
Work on the plan began more than a decade ago. Caroline Labiner Moser, then serving on the Ebell Board of Trustees as House Committee Chair, embarked on a complete reorganization of Ebell’s building archives to consolidate all information on campus. It soon became apparent that further study of the buildings was needed. “At the time, there were a lot of things that got in the way of the proper use of buildings,” Moser said. There was “poor accessibility, outdated mechanical systems, some deterioration, and 75,000 square feet of inefficiently used space.” This led Moser, historian Portia Lee, architect John Heller, then-Ebell chairwoman Patty Hill, and House committee members to draw, in 2013, a comprehensive report on the structures (HSR) as a starting point for the creation of an “encyclopedia”. for the upkeep, maintenance and improvement of the Ebell campus.
Continuing documentation of the campus took on greater urgency in 2015 when the city passed an ordinance requiring seismic retrofit of non-ductile concrete structures, a category that includes the Ebell Club and Theater. The need to comply with this ordinance along with the continued need to create an organizational system to track projects that could be used by staff, board and consultants led to the creation of the master plan to be completed in phases. .
Phase 1, now complete, builds on the 2013 HSR, an analysis of character-defining elements and significance, and an analysis of the historic landscape by James Yoch, cousin of The Ebell’s original landscaper, the famous Florence Yoch.
Projects in 2021 included state-of-the-art data measurement of all spaces, which can be used by any consultant working on the building or by events staff. Data measurement enables an innovative user experience, including a “hover” approach digitally displaying three-dimensional spaces. The Ebells also held a space planning charette to determine the best uses for all the spaces. “The Ebell has been specifically designed to house the mission of providing educational, cultural and social opportunities for women,” said Christy McAvoy, board member and director of House, Theater and Grounds, who recently led master plan effort. “The spaces of the building have been specifically designed to fulfill the mission, and they are inextricably linked to the activities of The Ebell throughout its history.”
The second phase has only just begun. Geotechnical and materials testing remains to be completed, along with the design of Ebell’s renovation plan and budget – to be completed by 2025. Once approved, the full renovation is required by the city by 2043. Next steps will focus on historical campus analysis, focusing on the Ebell Theatre. Several improvements to the ambiance, acoustics, lighting and accessibility of the club are also planned to improve the experience of members and visitors.
However, this vital work does not take place in a vacuum. The master plan is now part of a larger and more ambitious strategic vision for The Ebell, led by Executive Director Stacy Brightman. Brightman, who hails from the LA Opera House, said that vision is to “amplify The Ebell’s mission, women-centered, women-led, as a community with purpose, to uplift each other and Los Angeles through the arts, education, scholarship, civic engagement, and service, she references the German poet Goethe when describing the architecture of the Ebell campus as “frozen music” and states that , through the strategic vision and master plan, “we will make the campus sing! We stand on the shoulders of the women who built this extraordinary place,” added Brightman, saying its preservation, “…is a moral obligation that we manage in a way they envisioned while building on their legacy.
This Herculean task and the parallel fundraising effort it will require demonstrates the dedication and commitment of Ebell’s leaders and members to its historic home. “We are the campus and the campus is us,” said Patty Lombard, recent Past President. “The founders called it a clubhouse, but it was truly a place they could call home. It was somewhere they could control in a world where they had little control. Like many, The Ebell has suffered during the pandemic, but it endured by transforming into “Ebell Studios,” home to production of Amazon’s “Being The Ricardos,” allowing The Ebell staff to remain employed.
But last year, The Ebell once again welcomed members and the community to the clubhouse. “It’s the heart and soul of our organization,” said Laurie Schechter, President. “It’s a house, a gathering place for women. As we recover from COVID, this is more important than ever. Schechter recognizes the critical need for the Master Plan and its role not only in preserving the building, but also in promoting the integrity and consistency of The Ebell’s mission. “Our history comes alive in this building,” she said. “The master plan ensures that we will survive and thrive, as the campus is essential to fulfilling our mission of uplifting women.”