Drive down La Crescenta Avenue fast enough and you'll miss it — a humble, stone-and-brick building hidden behind a utility pole and a few trees.
It might be nondescript, but for almost a century, the clubhouse of the La Crescenta Woman's Club has been an important part of the area's long, often forgotten legacy. The building, with beautiful wooden floors that creak, a nostalgic fireplace and floral bathroom walls is steeped in history.
Enveloped in the silence before a monthly club meeting, I could almost see the ballroom full of local women with big hats and gloves from another time and place that once occupied this building around me. It also functions as a Red Cross Station during a disaster or emergency for the area, too.
But the clubhouse's strong and long-lasting foundations are not necessarily in its sturdy shell. Instead, they are in the group of women who use the house as a base and safe haven and whose dedication and appreciation for the concept of 'community' have kept the Woman's Club going for so many decades.
The club's existence today is in itself an amazing feat. Citing declining membership, women's clubs across the country have been shuttering their doors for years. More than two million women in the United States were part of the General Federation of Women's Clubs in the 1950s.
Today, their numbers have drastically decreased to about 100,000.
The clubs are not only competing with the economy, career trajectories and the time and energy of 21st century women — but also with technology, whose overarching presence supposedly fills many of our social needs.
The La Crescenta chapter has felt it, too — it’s lost members to old age and wants to attract new, younger women, many who might not know the club exists.
And then there's debunking the stuffy image.
“I think still a lot of people picture a bunch of old ladies knitting, talking about their husbands,” said Breanna Coe. “We're doing our best, as the younger members, to try and bring in that next generation.”
At 26, she's the youngest member of the club and possibly the youngest in the region. She's also the curator of the club's junior section.
Over cold cuts, strawberries and Madeleine cookies on a Monday night, the junior section of the organization — a diverse, opinionated and genuinely passionate part of the group — talks about everything from official club business (they're involved in a plethora of philanthropic projects) to the lack of voter turnout in Glendale and thank-you card etiquette.
It was obvious from just the few hours I spent with them that they are anything but boring.
They are also more than just the events they throw or the contributions they make. Encompassing an overlooked part of the community, many of them call the club a “sisterhood,” and one in which younger members, dealing with a barrage of modern challenges, would benefit from if they joined.
Dawna Berger has been a member of the La Crescenta Woman's Club for 10 years. Apart from the support she's received from other members who have been with her through trials and tribulations, including an illness that left her in a coma two years ago when she had to learn to walk again, she's stayed around because she wanted to make a difference in her own community.
“I think if we all gave a little bit, it would make such a difference. If everybody does a little bit, the burden is shared,” she said.
Coe, who highlighted female-on-female hating culture as one of the hidden challenges women face today, said the value of being part of the club has been immense, giving women an opportunity to encourage, instead of disparage each other.
“I look forward to it every month,” she says. “It's a nice, safe environment where I can take a deep breath and think about good things.”
So much has changed in women's lives since the beginnings of the La Crescenta Woman's Club in the early 20th century. Today's women, who make up half of the world's population, are dealing with a host of new, often unexpected challenges — many of which manifest themselves in the form of hidden barriers.
But despite its historic roots, the camaraderie and sense of community carried on by the Woman's Club today should be valued — not dismissed as a thing of the past.
Yes, much has changed — we're going to Pinterest meet-ups these days instead debutante balls — but strength in dealing with life's hurdles is still a much-needed tool and there's no better place to find that in than the confident, welcoming and often hilarious women doing great work in your own backyard.
As Berger told me, “We want to build strong women, we want women to know how strong they can be and what they can be.”
--LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.