According to LA Confidential, there is an old adage that goes “The people who run Los Angeles belong to The Jonathan Club; the people who own Los Angeles belong to The California Club.” These venerable, intimidating Downtown institutions were never the only clubs in town, but maybe it was that apparent binary that inspired LA’s huge proliferation of private clubs. Today there’s a club for elites of nearly every stripe: globe-trekkers, athletes, magicians. Even women and minorities! (These clubs are still close-knit, and you still need the endorsement of active members to join, of course).
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Many of the societies function not only as places to have meetings with people you’d like to impress, but as an “in” to a much larger network of national and international exclusivity. Despite a brief decline, it seems that members-only clubs are once again starting to appeal to young, professional, status-obsessed Angelenos. For those types, and for the gawkers, we’ve mapped some of Los Angeles’s most interesting exclusive clubs, from SoHo House to the Adventurers’ Club to the Magic Castle.
THE CALIFORNIA CLUB
The California Club: a seriously handsome historical landmark and seriously intimidating Downtown institution. Founded in 1888, the club, designed by architect Robert Farquhar, has counted former mayor Richard Riordan, journalist Charles Fletcher Lummis, and real estate developer H. Gaylord Wilshire (that’s right, THAT Wilshire) among its members. It did not count minorities or women among its members until 1987.
JONATHAN CLUB (TOWN)
Established as a social club in 1895, the Jonathan Club spent a lot of time combating its long and stuffy history; it recently underwent a hip makeoverand relaxed its dress code in the hope of attracting a younger crowd. (Since 1987, it also allows non-white-male members.) Henry E. Huntington, the railroad magnate, was a member.
JONATHAN BEACH CLUB
Since 1927, Jonathans have had access to this imposing, ivy-covered private beach club, “cradled in the rolling bluffs” along the shore. Access to the beach club costs a little bit more, but it’s probably worth it.
CITY CLUB LA
Younger than the exclusive Jonathan and California clubs, the City Club (51 stories up!) has a fairly loose policy about jeans-wearing and once proudly described itself as “a little United Nations.” It also offers discounts for members under 30.
BEL-AIR BAY CLUB
Founded by Alphonzo Edward Bell Sr. (the namesake of Bel Air, and developer of both the Bay Club and the Bel Air Country Club), this club officially opened in 1927. Raymond Chandlersupposedly hammered out his classic Farewell, My Lovely here; he used it as inspiration for the Belvedere Beach Club in the novel.
WOMEN’S TWENTIETH CENTURY CLUB
Founded in 1903, the Women’s Twentieth Century Club reportedly “applied for a Carnegie Grant to establish our first library (now the Center for the Arts/Eagle Rock), and also began the origins of the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society.” The civic-minded organization now has dues of only $40 (you still have to be endorsed by two members, though) and remains ladies-only.
Wilfandel, founded in 1945, is the oldest black women’s club in Los Angeles, and was once a “hub of high society” known for its high-class parties and equally high-class guest lists. It’s housed in the stately Wilfandel House, built in 1922 by silent film star Ramon Novarro as a home for his brother. The club requires new members to be highly civic-minded and to get approval from two active members.
THE ADVENTURERS’ CLUB
Literally a bunch of old, white men (at least from the photos they’ve posted), this club founded in 1921 is connected to a worldwide network of adventurous fellows that has carried on the traditions of the first group of “soldiers, sailors, hunters, trappers, travelers, journalists, authors and scientists” who started the club. Women are not allowed, except on special occasions, but those do include some of the best lectures, like the upcoming “Douglas Mawson’s Epic 700 Mile Antarctic Survival Journey.” Adventure!
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BALBOA BAY CLUB
Founded in 1948, Balboa Bay was a magnet for Hollywood’s big names—John Wayne, Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood—and Nixon and JFK held rallies here while campaigning.
Opened in 2010, the West Hollywood “house” of the London-based chain has been so successful, it’s rumored to be looking for space to open a second LA location. Membership dues for this location are estimated to be around $1,800.