A Page from History: The story of Point Loma’s community club
More than a century after its formation, the Point Loma Assembly remains home to a group of women who meet monthly to promote literacy and social, educational, philanthropic, civil and artistic work in the community.
The year is 1911. It is a simpler time with a much slower pace of life. The dirt roads of Roseville in Point Loma see very little traffic. The homes are few, the air is clean, but the living is not always easy.
A few pioneer women decide to gather at the home of Inez Jennings at 1036 Bay Front St. (now Scott Street). The women talk about their children, they share recipes, they frown over the local gossip and they discuss organizing a “Local Improvement Society.” They realize they are all interested in much more than the dusty day-to-day happenings in rustic Roseville.
As their gatherings grow, so do their topics of discussion. They talk of places they have read about in books — exotic places that are brought to life by their favorite authors. “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson fascinates them. His words help them escape from the tedious chores that dominate their lives.
The women decide to meet regularly in one another’s homes to discuss, interpret and dream. More women join the inspirational weekly gatherings to immerse themselves in the excitement of literature and embrace one another as kindred spirits.
Thus began the first women’s civic organization in Point Loma. The 28 original members called themselves the Point Loma Assembly. Marion James Robinson of Rosecroft Begonia Gardens and spouse of horticulturist Alfred Robinson was elected the first president.
The group began to adopt club goals and duties, always looking toward improvements for the good of the Point Loma community. Women from Ocean Beach and Loma Portal were invited to join, and within the first year, the membership had grown to 40 women.
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In January 1912, the San Diego Union noted, “The [Point Loma] Assembly is rapidly becoming one of the most pleasant features of the social life of the Point, as well as being materially beneficial in regard to the promotion of much-needed improvements of the section.”
It was later reported that “a number of pleasant outings will be given [by the Assembly] during the summer months. A jolly evening will be passed at Ocean Beach. A supper with a huge campfire on a moonlit night will conclude the special attractions during the summer.”
Club records show that “each member was requested to bring cup, spoon, sandwich and bacon.”
By 1913, San Diego’s first female physician, Dr. Charlotte Baker, had become Assembly president. Baker held strong moral and professional convictions against strong drink. She had teamed with Katherine Tingley of the Theosophical Society to effectively render Roseville a dry town in the years before Prohibition. In fact, the women of the Point Loma Assembly voted to stand with the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in its campaign to ban the sale of alcohol at the Panama-California Exposition of 1915.
With the popularity and growth of the Assembly, the building of a clubhouse became its No. 1 goal. Soon the Union reported this update: “The women of the Point Loma Assembly held a dinner party at the Point Loma Pavilion [foot of Talbot Street] for the benefit of a new clubhouse which this progressive organization hopes to build soon. A central place on Point Loma near the water will be selected for the site.”
Readers of this column may remember Roseville pioneer, real estate mogul and San Diego County Sheriff Frank Jennings. As it happened, two of the original organizers of the Point Loma Assembly were Jennings’ wife, Inez, and sister Eliza Jennings Smith.
We don’t mean to imply that the ladies put the squeeze on the old sheriff, but in 1913, Frank Jennings did lease four side-by-side Talbot Street lots (Nos. 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the Ironton subdivision) to the Point Loma Assembly for just a dollar a year for 33 years. Club minutes reveal that, provided the Assembly became incorporated, Jennings also pledged that for every dollar donation the club could collect, he would pitch in another dollar himself. The club quickly took the sheriff up on that offer, and on Aug. 30, 1913, the Point Loma Assembly was incorporated under California law and was thereby authorized to own property and transact business.
Prominent among the many associates of Frank Jennings in those years was early San Diego architect John Bills Stannard. Stannard’s resumé included one of San Diego’s most iconic structures, the beautiful Queen Anne-style Louis Bank of Commerce building on Fifth Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter. Jennings previously had commissioned Stannard to design Roseville School on Byron Street and the new Jennings family home on the bay. In 1914, Jennings again called on the architect to design a clubhouse for the Point Loma Assembly.
Work began on the new clubhouse in June 1914. The Assembly members on the building committee succeeded in getting the electrical wiring donated. Shades for the windows also were donated, and the price tag on the lumber was reduced. Assembly records show the clubhouse construction was completed for $3,400.
On Sept. 21, 1914, it was recorded in club minutes that “the first meeting of the Point Loma Assembly was held in the new clubhouse. It was an Open Day, when all women of the Point [including Ocean Beach and Loma Portal] were welcome.”
Jan. 4, 1915, marked the formal opening of the Point Loma Assembly clubhouse at 3035 Talbot St.
In its first year of existence, the clubhouse was put to excellent use. Not only was the building used as a venue for community meetings, Sunday school and church services, it served as the polling place for Point Loma and was home to the Point Loma Camp Fire Girls. Plays and dance classes were held at the clubhouse and the ladies of the Assembly hosted their first Christmas party for the children of Roseville School.
While things were coming up roses for the women of Roseville, a deadly conflict raged across Europe — the Great War, World War I. When the United States entered the war in spring 1917, the Point Loma Assembly and its clubhouse became part of the war effort. The club raised money for knitting yarn to be used in making garments for soldiers and sailors. It created Red Cross workrooms for sewing and knitting and hosted dances for service members.
On Dec. 17 that year, the Union reported: “Entertainment for enlisted men will be available at the Point Loma Assembly. Different groups of men from Fort Rosecrans, the Coast Guard, the naval camp at the radio station and from a warship in the harbor will vie with each other in various stunts.”
Though 30 men signed up for the first of the dances, only 16 showed up. In a contemporaneous letter written to Assembly members, Red Cross volunteer and Navy wife Charlotte Perrill stated that “the next dance was given for the USS Yorktown, which had just returned from a most interesting cruise to a number of islands off the coast of Mexico, where German activities had been suspected. The response to the invitation was that 76 men had signed up for the dance, and the night of the dance, not only the 76 from the Yorktown but every man who had attended the first dance showed up and each brought two or three others. The men said they were made to feel more at home at these dances than at any others, and after the second dance, the attendance was always near 200.”
The pandemic of Spanish influenza began in 1918 toward the end of the Great War, and club notes reflect the mood of the period: “It may seem that the building is not used as much as it should be, but it is always there when we need it, and no place can be a substitute. We would be lost without it.”
In following years, the Point Loma Assembly would sponsor Boy Scout troops, host arts and crafts sessions for the public, support child welfare with a free milk program, and open a public library for members to use on Saturdays and Sundays. The Assembly also held community dinners with San Diego City Council members, the city manager and the city planning board to discuss the importance of planning improvements for the Point Loma community.
At one point, the Assembly supported formally changing the name of Roseville to Point Loma and the name of Roseville School to Lyman Gage School. Neither proposal transpired.
Believe it or not, men were allowed to join the Assembly in the early 1920s, and San Diego historian and longtime Serra Museum Director John Davidson served for a time as Assembly president.
For many years, the Point Loma Assembly served as the auditorium for Cabrillo Elementary School right across the street.
In 1935, when Frank Jennings died, the Point Loma Assembly wrote this: “The Point Loma Assembly extends its heartfelt sympathy to the Jennings family, feeling that a beloved friend and neighbor has passed on. We shall long remember both Mr. and Mrs. Jennings with love and appreciation for what they have been to each of us personally and to all of Point Loma.”
That same year, Frank and Inez’ sons conveyed a grant deed to the Assembly building, stipulating that if the building were maintained as an Assembly hall, kept free of mortgage, and taxes and assessments were paid, the land would become property of the Point Loma Assembly on Jan. 1, 1945, thus ending the lease that Frank had provided.
The winter of 1941 saw the United States embroiled in another world war, this time much closer to home. The Assembly clubhouse became the home of civil defense meetings and volunteer port security classes. The hall was again used as a Red Cross distribution center for sewing, preparing surgical dressings and knitting hospital slippers. The Assembly also held first aid and nutrition classes and was very involved with the USO during the war.
We like to think that Frank Jennings would be pleased with the work the members of the Point Loma Assembly have carried on since the clubhouse became theirs. The venerable venue has hosted speakers from around the world, as well as many musical programs, and has sponsored needy families recommended by The Salvation Army. Teas, luncheons, celebrations, rummage sales, dance classes and the teaching of culture and manners to the children of Point Loma through the Peninsula Cotillion have been prominent entries on the old clubhouse calendar for decades.
The Point Loma Assembly has not failed to keep up with the times. In recent years the Assembly hall has been the scene of many popular programs, including the La Playa Trail Association Lecture Series. The Assembly’s stage is home to Point Loma Playhouse.
Gone are the horses and buggies that used to transport the first pioneer women of Point Loma to their meetings. Gone are the dirt roads and occasional farm animal that might wander down Talbot Street past the clubhouse. Yet the Point Loma Assembly hall still looks very much as it did back in 1915. A new floor, at least one new roof, a few coats of paint, a couple of renovations and a refurbished walkway leading to the porch keep the clubhouse looking sharp.
A plaque honoring the contributions of Frank Jennings hangs on a wall. The Assembly is still home to a group of motivated, energetic women who meet monthly to promote literacy and social, educational, philanthropic, civil and artistic work in our community. It is still a place where different clubs and organizations can meet.
And somehow amid the hustle and bustle of the modern world, the Point Loma Assembly has managed to retain its homey atmosphere, its message of good fellowship and its feeling of small-town community spirit.
For more information, visit pointlomaassembly.org.
Kitty McDaniel is president of the La Playa Trail Association. Eric DuVall is president of the Ocean Beach Historical Society. Membership in OBHS, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is $25 annually. Visit obhistory.org.