The almost 500-member Los Angeles Press Club has outlived most of the city’s newspapers, having been launched shortly after 1900 when Wilshire Boulevard was still a dirt trail to the ocean and the most gracious mansions in the city were on knolls immediately surrounding downtown.
Leading up to World War I, the club was located above Dick Ferris’ office on 327 South Hill Street downtown, and served as a gathering spot for journalists in the rowdy days when a half-dozen daily newspapers, loudly promoting their sometimes extreme political views, served the small but fast-growing city.
With the Great Depression of the 1930s, followed by World War II, the club ceased operations. But the need for journalists to get together did not fade. After World War II, on September 24, 1946, newsmen from the surviving four daily newspapers founded the Greater Los Angeles Press Club. Since Los Angeles Press Club was taken by a nightclub we became the Greater…The nightclub is no longer around and we have reposessed our real name.
In those early years, the club’s board chose a Miss Press Club annually, and selected as its first recipient Marilyn Monroe. In the late 1940s, President Harry Truman spoke at a club luncheon and was so well received by club members they were said to have influenced Truman’s decision to seek another term.
From 1960 until the late 1980s, the booming club owned a large building on Vermont Avenue where it operated a cafe, cocktail lounge and major press conference facility. But as the nature of journalism and journalists changed, reporters lost interest in gathering there, and the facility grew empty. Red ink began to mount, so the club sold the building and moved to leased offices.
In the late 1990s, club president and then Adelphia Cable executive Bill Rosendahl realized that the club, which was suffering shrinking membership as were all press clubs, would benefit by drawing in younger, working journalists. Rosendahl recruited dozens of them and persuaded several to run for the elected Board of Directors.
Among the new members was former Hollywood Reporter editor Alex Ben Block, who served as Executive Director for three years, working closely with longtime members like Jim Foy (NBC ret.) and newer recruits to reinvigorate the club. Block spearheaded the effort to return the club to non-profit status and re-invent it as a service organization for journalists and the entire community. Their efforts have been a great success.
Membership has rebounded dramatically. The club has sponsored dozens of seminars, Town Hall gatherings and social events open to the public and featuring top figures in politics, culture and the film industry. Notable were a Town Hall with former Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks following controversy over the 2000 Democratic Convention, the ongoing “Opening the Door” series on how to access sources in Hollywood, government, and cocktail events featuring author-speakers such as Elmore Leonard.
The club has launched outreach efforts to international, minority, freelance and gay journalists, and its International Journalists Caucus is rapidly expanding. One of the club’s most serious missions is to persuade local governments to obey existing California laws by opening up public meetings and public documents to journalists and the public. The club is directing this effort via its Sunshine Coalition, which has already achieved moderate success in educating the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to stop violating the Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law.
Free to its members, the club distributes by e-mail the 8 Ball Newsletter. The club website, www.lapressclub.org contains useful journalistic tools, contacts, information on upcoming events, our annual Southern California Journalism Awards and applications for membership.
In August of 2003, we received the word that the IRS has granted our request for non-profit status. This reflects our recent efforts in providing a number of public service events, such as a full day sourcing seminar at USC and another one on the civil justice seminar, monthly (every second Thursday) debates and social events.
The board hopes to design programs to educate and improve the lives of journalists, as well as future journalists and the greater community that is affected by journalism every day.
As from 2004, the Los Angeles Press Club is also offering a press ID card to the working members of the media.
In 2005 we moved to an office above Steve Allen Theater, where we also host most of our events.