Inner Sanctum

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

One of the services we like to provide at LA Observed is to take listeners and readers behind the scenes in Los Angeles, to give a glimpse, where we can, inside the doors that usually stay closed to most of us.

Today we're going inside a true bastion of old-school Los Angeles privilege and power.

Last night, by invitation, I gave a book talk downtown at the California Club, the city's oldest private club. At one time – and for a long time – I would have had to call the California Club the city's oldest private men's club.

Which also meant white men's club. That's changed since the Supreme Court and Mayor Tom Bradley pressured private clubs to discriminate less.

When Richard Riordan was mayor, he invited a senior editor at the Los Angeles Times to the club to meet him at the club to leak some news.

She burst in wearing pants and a sense of urgency, setting off internal culture shocks that led to relaxation of the gender and dress codes.

But not very relaxed.

Everyone last night was in suits and ties, and pantsuits or dresses. Everything felt quite proper and dignified, but not stuffy.

We were allowed to find our own way to the grand lounge, a cozy enclave of dark oak with a fireplace and very high ceilings.

We mingled there with members of the club. Several knew the book that me and my co-author, Eric Lynxwiler, were there to talk about – our story of Wilshire Boulevard.

Not surprising since many of the members are LA history and architecture aficionados.

The boulevard's namesake, Gaylord Wilshire, was a founder of the club. And they accepted in good humor my needling about their Gaylord being a raving socialist in his day. At least, I think they were laughing with me.

Authors do these kinds of events in order to sell books, of course. On that the members were generous. One senior gentleman left with eight copies, holiday gifts for his family.

Eric and I spoke between dinner courses, the main attraction being filets of pink trout accompanied by a lovely Sauvignon blanc.

After dinner, our host led us on a tour of the club's massive home since the 1920's.

You've probably seen it. It's the large brick edifice just south of the Central Library, 300,000 square feet of dignified lounges, club rooms and private meeting spaces facing on Flower Street.

The kitchen was impressive, as capable as any hotel kitchen in town. The main library was a history lover's dream, overflowing with California literature, including rare books that would be of value to scholars.

In fact, there is a museum quality to the whole place. The spaces are exquisitely arranged and quiet, the rooms and hallways furnished with stunning chandeliers and art pieces.

Plein-air scenes of Yosemite and other California landscapes line the walls, along with painted portraits of the club's founders.

These are the men who built and controlled the Los Angeles of an earlier time, and I felt more entertained than discomfited by walking among them, confident that their present-day successors may still be powerful but don't really run the show anymore.

I didn't notice if Riordan's name is still on the member board. I did spot Eli Broad and other names I recognized. One of our hosts was Sue Laris, the publisher of the Downtown News, which I took as evidence that the old boys circle had grown at least some.

This will probably never happen, but it would be a great PR move if the club opened its doors to the public, say once a year, just to let people gawk at the art on the walls.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.