Full of life
Revitalized Chico Women’s Club celebrates 100th anniversary
The members of the Chico Women’s Club are very proud of their newly restored 1911 Steinway grand piano, and deservedly so. “It’s come back to life,” said visiting pianist Frederick Hodges last March after playing it during the Chico Silent Film Festival. Hodges had also played it at the club the previous year, before its transformation. “Now it is not only a restored instrument,” he said, “but it’s a magnificent, world-class instrument.”
The Steinway isn’t the only thing that’s “come back to life.” The restored century-old treasure is a fitting symbol at this point in time for the Chico Women’s Club, which celebrates its 100-year anniversary this month after a reinvigorated club membership spent the previous decade restoring the venue—a longstanding community treasure that has been home to not only the women’s club but also countless community events and private parties over the years. “It is very difficult to find anyone in Chico who has not been to a Chico Women’s Club event,” said trustee Glynda-Lee Hoffman during a recent interview at the club with her and fellow member Renee Renaud.
In 2004, after years of losing members to declining health and old age, the aging building had started to deteriorate. Around that time, a few new, younger members—Jeanne Christopherson, Rosemary Quinn, as well as Renaud and Hoffmann—took the reins. Under the new leadership, membership went from 15 to more than 100. With the infusion of new energy came an overhaul of the building: new paint inside and out, a new heating and air-conditioning system, new tile on the walkway, new curtains, cleanup of the basement (including the organization of the club’s archives), new chairs, and—coming soon—a resurfaced parking lot.
And, of course, there was also the restoration of the Steinway, which was immediately put to work for the Ebony & Ivory restoration-benefit project, a series of five monthly concerts that started in April and will be capped off with two 100th-anniversary celebrations: the 100th birthday party on Sept. 8 at the club, a free event featuring food, stories, a proclamation from the mayor, and pianist John Paris on the Steinway; and a progressive-dinner fundraiser on Sept. 27.
As Chico Women’s Club legend goes, in the summer of 1913, Mrs. O.W. (Margaret) March, after arriving in Chico from Cherokee, Iowa, said to her friend Mrs. W. F. Gage, “Chico needs a women’s club. … I have the know-how, and you have the friends. If you would ask maybe 10 or 12 of your friends to come to your house, we would meet there.”
The first meeting actually took place in the home of Mattie Landis (her house at 381 E. Fourth St. is currently owned by another women’s club, the Alpha Chi sorority next door), and in October 2013, the Chico Art Club was officially born. With 29 charter members, the women met in each others’ homes and in various buildings around Chico.
In 1928, the club bought a lot at the east end of the Woodland Park subdivision and raised enough money before the Depression hit to build the current clubhouse that was completed in October 1933. Reports of the official opening in the Chico Enterprise quoted Mrs. D.B. Rider, the district president of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs, who christened the new space: “This club will be the mecca for women’s activities. It will stand as a symbol to the desire of its members to be a factor in building up the social and cultural life of the community.”
In addition to hosting concerts and lectures, the women’s community-building efforts included some impressive civic projects. They spearheaded the Caper Acres playground project, helped with the restoration of Bidwell Mansion, and organized the cleanup and creation of the Annie’s Glen area of Bidwell Park.
And during the revitalization over the past decade, the current membership carried the community-building torch by sponsoring a wide variety of programs—the Works in the Works performance festival, the Bioneers documentary series, scholarships for Fair View High School girls, and the annual Celebration of Women variety show, to name a few.
When asked what their hopes are for the future of the Chico Women’s Club, Hoffmann is quick to say that she’d like to see the club continue its growth: “We would like to see younger members come in and figure out new ways to use the building.”