The land on which the Santa Anita Bowling Green Club's greens and clubhouse is located was once a small part of the original Rancho Santa Anita, a vast area of about 2,100 square miles. Lucky Baldwin purchased the Rancho in 1875. Over time, portions of the Rancho were sold, eventually being developed into the towns we know today as Arcadia, El Monte, Monrovia, and Sierra Madre.
In 1918, the County of Los Angeles purchased 185 acres from Anita Baldwin for $92,000. Prior to the purchase, the land was part of the Santa Anita Racetrack. The county turned the land into a park, which was then used as a training camp by the U.S. Army. Later, it was the site of the Japanese concentration camps in World War II.
In 1935, through an act of Congress, the War Department redeeded the 185 acres to the county with the provision that it be used as a park and recreation center. The conversion of the site from an army camp into a recreational facility was a WPA project that employed 600 men and cost over $100,000.00. Ninety percent of the labor was done by hand and produced an 18-hole golf course, a swimming pool, a bath house, two grandstands, eight tennis courts, a hardball court, a baseball diamond, a baseball grandstand, a softball diamond, a children’s playground, and two lawn bowling greens. Can you imagine what the cost would be today?!
The Club is Formed
Bowling greens #1 and #2 were almost complete when a group of local men got together to form a lawn bowling club. They met in the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce rooms on June 17, 1937. There were 12 men at that initial meeting. At the next meeting, five days later on June 22, 1937, the original twelve (who would become the founding members) were joined by an additional eight, and the organization was officially founded under the name, Arcadia Bowling Green Club (ABGC).
The ABGC was strictly a male organization, and only three of the organizers had any idea how to play the game. Jack Stanley, who moved to Arcadia from Oakland, California, where he was active in the club there, became the first president and agreed to teach the other members. He was joined by Ed Berry who also had some experience with the game.
The club grew, and by the time the Pearl Harbor attacks occurred there were about 55 members. The hardships associated with the war took their toll on the club, however, and membership dropped to about 40. With the return of peace, membership quickly rose to about 75.
The Formative Years: 1937 - 1960
During the first ten years of the club’s existence it was without a clubhouse. Then in 1947, after years of lobbying, the club was able to persuade the county to appropriate $30,000 to build a clubhouse. The building was completed in 1948.
During this time, the club was also pleased to welcome players from Britain and Canada. A group of 30 British bowlers visited the ABGC in 1947. They were followed by a Canadian group in 1995, and another British group in 1956. Though both the British and Canadian players were able to defeat the members of the ABGC, the competitions were educational and fun for everyone. Another significant event during this time was the incorporation of the club. Incorporation was approved by the State on March 4, 1955.
In January 1949, a group of ladies formed their own club and began bowling. At one time the membership of the ladies’ club stood at 15. They associated themselves with the Southern California Women’s group and enjoyed bowling in tournaments throughout the state. The ladies’ club was also active socially, holding parties and picnics to celebrate most of the major holidays.
By 1960, the membership of the ladies’club had dwindled to almost nothing. It was decided that they would be admitted to the men’s club, but only as Class B members. This meant that they could bowl with the men but had no voting privileges.
In July of 1964, Class B memberships were eliminated from the club’s by-laws and the women became full members. The first women to join the club were Anna Bucher, Nellie Jerg, Susan Long, and Cathy Noren. Both Cathy Noren and Anna Bucher had served as President of the ladies’ club.
The Good Years
The years 1962 and 1963 were good for the ABGC. Construction of a north wing room was completed and the club was allowed to use it as a clubroom. At the same time, construction of Green #3 began. While all this construction was in progress, the club entertained 31 men and 15 women from six lawn bowling clubs in Australia.
Up until about 1963 the ABGC was almost the only organization using the clubhouse. Hardly a day went by that bowlers didn’t stay after their games to chat, eat lunch, and play bridge. Once the new additions were completed, however, more and more groups began to use the facility.
Until 1966 no money was paid to the county for the upkeep of the greens. However, there was an unspoken agreement that the club would donate one half of all dues collected to the county. One half of what was collected was put into a separate bank account and given to the county at the end of the year as a goodwill offering. The county supervisors acknowledged the receipt of this money as a gift. Because the greens were in poor condition in 1965, the county decided that the club should withhold its gift. In 1966, the club decided to begin collecting fees specifically for the care of the greens. The first fees were set at $18 per year.
Throughout the 60s and into the 70s, the club earned the respect of the lawn bowling community with its sportsmanship and competitive stance. Training classes were organized and the positive results were reflected in a steadily increasing membership: 1971 – 86 members
1972 – 122 members
1974 – 149 members
1975 - 173 members
1976 – 196 members
1977 – 204 members
1978 – 204 members
1979 – 244 members
The ABGC was the first lawn bowling club to stage charity events. The first project, started by Joe Zook in 1965, was a Halloween party for retarded children. Though it was a hit with everyone involved, it had to be abandoned in 1978 due to a transportation problem. Another club project that deserves special mention is the annual City of Hope Triples tournament, which raises money for cancer research. It is held on Parks and Recreation Day each year.
ABGC has been the host for many notable tournaments, including the Women’s U.S. Nationals in 1977 and the Southwest Division Open.
A typical example of this club’s willingness and ability to work together to create positive change was the day members appeared at the budget session of the County Board of Supervisor’s meeting to ask that a fourth bowling green be installed. A large group of club members, dressed in whites, sat in the audience while Bob Weitkamp made a stirring appeal for the green. The Board approved and the 4th green was built.
The progress this club has made since 1937 should instill a sense of pride in each member and make us determined to maintain the high standards and good sportsmanship that are traditional in lawn bowling. As Alastair Booke wrote, “It is one thing to write history; it is far better to make it.” That is exactly what we are doing in our club.
Distilled from documents written by Frank R. Jerome and Mike Eberle.
Arcadia County Park 405 S. Santa Anita Ave. Arcadia, CA. 91006