SERIES – Harry Golden: LA’s Heritage Clubs

PART TWO: Excerpted from “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” by Harry Golden, circa 1960.
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“In Los Angeles there are thousands of fraternal organizations and societies based upon places of origin. There is the Minneapolis Canasta Club, the Iowa Society, the Friends of the Mid-West, the Lower East Side Association, the Oregon Friendly Social Club.

In this, the newcomers to California are following the pattern of America’s immigrants from Europe, who organized themselves into fraternal societies of people from the same town or area.

One of the real reasons for so many societies was the fact that a fraternity could have only one president, one secretary, and one treasurer, and there was always the need for another organization. History hasn’t changed much since those days. Many of our organizations today are broken down into five or six separate groups – Mr. and Mrs. clubs, adult study groups, auxiliaries, and of course “youth.” And each organization has a staff of officers, banquets and social functions.

I can just see the old gents of the “Zegeefska Chevra” stroking their beards in wonder at the “Tuesday Ladies of Flatbush” playing canasta in a vestry room of the San Fernando Valley.

The very composition of the City of Los Angeles has banished one form of bigotry. No one ever sneers, “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” because if anyone took this to heart, the whole joint would empty overnight and the only ones left would be a few bemused Indians.”

THOUGHTS: Seems our vast array of domestic heritage societies, canasta clubs and social vestry rooms faded into the shadows over the last fifty years. (But what the frickity frack is a “Zegeefska Chevra”!!!??? Does anyone here know what he’s talking about?) I actually don’t think we’ve become such a melting pot that people don’t congregate towards finding comfort in heritage the way they used to, though. By the warm reaction to my North Dakota post, I know that people do still light up when they find something here that reminds them of home… but it seems like where you’re from isn’t always worn as a lifelong badge of bonding the way it once was. Long Beach is no longer ground zero for people from Iowa and Minneapolis (it was once called Iowa By The Sea for a reason), and it’s no longer common knowledge that Pasadena was actually a colony settlement of people solely from Indiana. Our modern-day Indians are less bemused, too.

After thinking about it a bit, I realized that perhaps the key reason we don’t have all of these clubs has nothing to do with anti-socialism or lack of civic pride, though. A lot has changed since the Camelot of 1960 when this article was written and John F. Kennedy had just been elected President. Truth is, contrary to the image this article describes… people aren’t fighting each other to be the President of much of anything any more. In 1960 that title was the highest and proudest aspiration you could aim for, but the shine has long since worn off the turd of power. Clubs always need leaders, and not only is leading is a lot of work, but it always involves politics. Our perceptions have changed a lot since 1960: perhaps we’ve seen for ourselves that being President can be kind of a crappy, thankless job we might not want to take on. But I could be wrong.

COMING SOON… PART THREE: Harry Golden on LA’s Real Estate of the 1960s

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2 Responses to “SERIES – Harry Golden: LA’s Heritage Clubs”

  1. Sharon B says:

    “Zegeefska Chevra” is the group of friends from the old country town of Zegeefska. “Chevra” means group of friends or community-Yiddish version of a Hebrew word.

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