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Male Bastion Bows to Its New Partners : Acceptance of Female Members Causes Hardly a Ripple at the Jonathan Club

August 21, 1987|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

The walls have not come tumbling down.

The Jonathan Club, the prestigious downtown private club whose founders opened its doors 92 years ago to socially acceptable men, has only very recently widened its welcome to women. The immediate change is almost imperceptible.

Club secretary George Thompson said: "We do have ladies in right now. A lot (of women) had widows' privileges. They had an opportunity to pay an additional fee and transfer to regular membership. About seven to 10 have converted, and there are several brand new members."

Brooke Knapp, president and owner of a private investment company, and newly appointed Municipal Court Judge Lois Anderson-Smaltz are both new members, happy and honored to be a part of it and alike in their reluctance to do anything that might offend their associates there.

A Discreet Elevator

Women, whether family members or guests, have long been welcome in certain areas of the club, even if initially they had to reach those areas by a discreet little elevator tucked away in a corner near the entrance. In recent years, they have been allowed to bypass that elevator and walk with the best of them through the elegant lobby to the main elevators. On the third floor, both the main dining room and the ladies dining room, on opposite ends, were integrated some years back, and it is also not unusual to see women in the lounge/bar in between. They are also free to ascend the marble staircase past the bust of the Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln to the private dining rooms on the fourth floor.

Women members, however, will still not have privileges at the last male bastion, the second floor, where the men's grill, the library and the men's bar will remain off limits.

After breakfast the other morning, a male club member ushered his female visitor on a quick foray to the second floor, where the only person in sight turned out to be a venerable-looking veteran of many years of club lounging, who emerged slowly and carefully from the library.

"As you can see, the capitalists are not hiding away on the second floor conspiring on the future of the republic here," he said with a grin.

Indeed, some of the corridors of power looked more dim and drab than intimidating. The building is an elegant one, remarkably similar in its ornately carved ceilings, wood paneled walls and generous supply of marble to the Biltmore Hotel. (In fact they were built within two years of each other, the Biltmore in 1923, the Jonathan Club in 1925, both designed by the same New York firm of Schultze & Weaver.) There is a faded grandeur in its dark upholstery, heavy lamps and oil paintings. Hushed voices prevail in the hallways.

Breakfast in the half-empty dining room, while business rather than social, bore no resemblance to the fabled power breakfasts of recent times. No phone jacks, table hopping, people being paged. The thought of writing on the table cloths does not even arise.

Nevertheless, the myth persists that these really are the corridors of power. Hallowed ones. And if new members Knapp and Anderson-Smaltz bear one thing in common, it is, perhaps, their common respect for their new affiliation.

Knowing the club has never welcomed publicity, Knapp hesitated at the request to bring a reporter to the club, finally declining on the grounds that it might not be in the club's best interests. Anderson-Smaltz refused to confirm that she was a member, preferring that the information come from the club. She then checked with the club before consenting to an interview.

Anderson-Smaltz is a slightly reserved woman who presides over her court and relaxes in her chambers at Traffic Court with the same quiet, calm manner. Married to attorney Donald Smaltz, a partner in Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, she said she has four stepdaughters and "two grandsons" through her marriage. She was appointed to the bench in June, sworn in in July and assigned to Traffic Court.

When she was practicing law, she said, she often used her husband's membership at the Los Angeles Athletic Club and University Club to entertain clients, but that it was always "here's Mr. Smaltz's wife. I felt professionally it would be useful for me to have my own membership."

Anderson-Smaltz said she first thought of applying last summer and was told by several members they were not aware of actual restrictions against women joining, although they knew of no women members.

Barriers Removed

Barriers to women had been removed from the by-laws 10 years ago, but it was not until April of this year, following a survey of the 3,000 members, that the members voted four to one to admit women.

Anderson-Smaltz described it as coincidental that her application for membership happened at a time male clubs, including the California Club and other private clubs, were coming under increasing legal and public pressure to stop alleged discriminatory admissions policies on the basis of religion, race and sex.

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