A Storied Los Angeles Club for African American Women Looks to the Future

by Lynell George

FROM: Preservation Magazine

WilfandelGroup_JoeSchmelzerIt doesn’t take much to envision a certain wide stretch of Los Angeles’ West Adams Boulevard in its early 20th century glory—when traffic floated by at a genteel pace and carefully spaced rows of stately homes peeked out from sumptuous gardens. Taken together, it embodied the sweet dream of the West.

From its easterly end in downtown Los Angeles to its western reaches just beyond what is today Crenshaw Boulevard, the historic West Adams District was home to early film stars like Theda Bara and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, as well as key Los Angeles power brokers such as oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny and his wife Carrie Estelle Doheny.

Some years later this enclave would become home to many African American celebrities of the day; property owners included actresses Hattie McDaniel and Louise Beavers, as well as the Nicholas Brothers, the acclaimed tap-dancing duo. This was about the time that the members of the Wilfandel Club—51 resourceful and upwardly mobile African American women who were challenging assumptions about black Los Angeles—would take their run of a stately house at 3425 West Adams. The white, terracotta tile-roofed Mediterranean Revival residence, built in 1912, stands at the northeast corner of Adams and 5th Avenue, set back from the boulevard with a bright apron of green lawn leading to its broad porch.

Founded in 1945 by Della Williams and Fannie Williams (the two were not related), the Wilfandel Club House offered a singular experience: an elegant gathering place for black Angelenos to meet or celebrate in style. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently awarded the club a $75,000 grant through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (AACHAF) to assist the women of the Wilfandel with essential infrastructure upkeep. Preserving this property is a way to honor all that’s come before—that struggle to acquire and protect one’s place in an ever-evolving Los Angeles.

I visit the Wilfandel Club on a late-summer morning, but a crisp sea breeze suggests that here in Southern California, fall is near. Carole Kaiser, the club’s current house chair, swings open the heavy front door. In the foyer, a young woman in leggings and a dark hoodie, hair smoothed back in a ponytail, stands in a pool of sunlight with the house’s events manager, Robert Brooks. She’s training her smartphone, in video mode, on her pathway—first the foyer, then the living room, dining room, and kitchen. “For my fiancé,” she announces, breaking into her on-mic room-to-room narration. She’s scouting locations for her wedding, and the Wilfandel is high on her list.Read Rest of Article Here


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