LA JOLLA — Betty Alexander and Nancy Sommer unintentionally achieved what the best efforts of rain, snow, sleet and dark of night supposedly could not: They stayed a United States postman from his appointed rounds.
Alexander's postman of 10 years requested a transfer when the pair of one-time Fort Worth socialites started the preliminary mailings for the San Diego Social Directory, an exhaustive listing of local notables that will be modeled along the lines of such gilt-edged publications as New York's venerable Social Register.
"Our former mailman went back to his old route when we started sending and receiving our business letters," said Alexander, prompted to reminisce when the new carrier (who always parks as near to Alexander's door as possible) delivered several armloads of correspondence. Scooping up what appeared to be several hundred envelopes, Alexander added them to an already mountainous pile on the hall table and said, "When the mail comes, that's fun time!"
Survey Showed a Need
However, it was not a lust for letters that convinced the two girlhood chums (Alexander, a 30-year La Jolla resident, maintains close Fort Worth ties; Sommer moved here from that city in 1984) to found their new social directory. Alexander said that she had test-marketed the concept 10 years ago and found that, locally speaking, the directory was an idea whose time had not come. A survey made last year earned a warm reception and encouraged the pair to act. Publication is expected in the fall.
"This book will make for ease of communication," said Alexander. "It will list people who work together for various organizations, and will let you reach people without thumbing through five phone books or a dozen club directories. It will include those who appear most frequently on fund-raiser and party lists."
"We decided there was a need for a single, comprehensive compilation of who usually responds to invitations and participates in events," said Sommer. "The people who are most interactive in the community will use our book."
Holding up a copy of the 1985-87 Fort Worth Social Directory, which is bound in a dusty brown cover, Sommer said, "This was the directory we lived by back home. I kept mine chained to the telephone."
A whiff of snobbery usually is associated with the term "social directory," and starting one in the supposedly egalitarian atmosphere of 1987 may seem a rather anachronistic gesture.
The 1887 founding of the New York register, commonly called the "Blue Book," spawned similar directories in major cities across the country, and all typically required the "right" birth and background for inclusion. However, there are relatively few Astors and Vanderbilts in the New York book today, and, in most directories, mention usually reflects membership in various clubs, and in social, cultural and philanthropic organizations. Political prominence can earn a listing; as a courtesy, most directories include the current President, and all living former Presidents.
'Movers and Shakers'
Alexander and Sommer will not be pioneers in the local field. In 1934, the San Diego Social Register listed 88 pages of prominent folk, but the book never went into a second edition, primarily because this was then a small city, and most of the people mentioned in the directory knew one another already. It may also be true that the publishers chose an inauspicious time, the middle of the Depression, in which to inaugurate their volume.
The new book will include a countywide sampling of what Sommer called "the movers and shakers, the contributors to the community, the people who give of themselves in many ways." About 6,000 individuals and families have received invitations to be listed, and according to the pair (as well as Alexander's postman), the response has been enthusiastic.
About 70% of respondents also have sent in orders for the $40 volume, a percentage that heartens its publishers. However, being listed does not require purchase of the book. Businesses deemed interesting to subscribers have been invited to advertise, although the book is not intended for any sort of commercial use, as will be stated in a disclaimer on the frontispiece.
"This is not a book to be used for commercial purposes, period," said Alexander. "We can't stake our lives that it won't be, but we'll do our best. And it won't be sold except through our hands. You won't be able to get it at a bookstore."
Alexander said that sales of the directory would be largely restricted to those whom it lists. Others would be required to furnish an acceptable motive. "This book is not for distribution to the public. It would depend one what a non-listee wanted it for," she said. "For example, I wouldn't sell it to Jimmy Swaggart."