By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Almost any news story involving a professional organization rent by fratricidal conflicts, financial controversy and bitter generational divisions would be catnip to a reporter. But when it comes to the case of a venerable society run for and by journalists, that story suddenly loses its tan line. For most of this year a war of words over the future home of the 450-member Greater Los Angeles Press Club has paralyzed the organization and prevented it from becoming much of a presence on the county’s media landscape. The group‘s lack of profile became obvious during the Democratic National Convention, when the P.C. was conspicuously invisible to the 15,000 visiting members of the media. (Except, perhaps, for a pre-convention meet-the-mayor lunch that the club hosted at Dick Riordan’s restaurant, where journos had to pay for their own Pantry Burgers.)
I belong to the club as member #A8216, having joined, like many others, in the heady rush of its September 1999 membership drive, when the P.C. seemed to be reinventing itself. Until then I didn‘t know much about the group, other than remembering it had a swell club building on Vermont Avenue and having heard that it had been drifting without a headquarters since selling that venue in 1988.
If non-journalists think about press clubs at all, they probably imagine dark, smoky dens filled with hardboiled men and women playing cards and nursing Scotches. The laptop reality for today’s media professionals is far different, however, as the number of journalists who want to stop off for a drink and a bite to eat before heading home after work has been declining for years. The L.A. Press Club‘s old Vermont Avenue redoubt -- a Mission Revival gem -- resembled a small supper club and had its own paid kitchen and bar staff, reflecting a bygone time when business and pleasure mixed more easily.
After conducting an exhaustive search, the P.C.’s board of directors considered negotiating moving into a 1,080-square-foot storefront inside the renovated San Fernando Building. This eight-story Renaissance Revival edifice, which was built by Colonel James Lankershim in 1906 and whose sixth floor once reputedly served as a gambling hub for local businessmen, is part of developer Tom Gilmore‘s efforts to revitalize the downtown location with artists’ lofts, a jazz club and restaurant. To a majority of the P.C.‘s board it looked like a good place at a good rent -- even if it meant getting locked into a four-year lease.
The specific complaint against the proposed headquarters has ostensibly been the address. Located at Fourth and Main streets, the San Fernando Building offers commanding views of Skid Row. Proponents cite the proximity of the gleaming Ronald Reagan State Office Building; its enemies point to the nearness of the Midnight Mission.
The issue began simmering over the past four months, with individuals mailing attacks and counterattacks to the membership. Things came to a boil September 16, when a general meeting, called by Mary Neiswender to discuss and vote upon the move, was held in Patriotic Hall’s Omar Bradley Room. The partisan and bellicose nature of this meeting -- along with the refuseniks‘ superior numbers -- was clear from the start as the anti--Main Street faction badgered president Mary Moore on everything from parliamentary procedures to where in the meeting room she should speak from. Members presented their own views of the proposed new location: one side claimed it was a dangerous no-go zone, the other cited new crime stats that seemed to portray the area as little more dodgy than Westwood Village. Neiswender lamented having to ”step over the homeless“ to get to the new offices, while vice president and Main Street advocate Jill Stewart claimed that ”most homeless people are too drunk to commit crimes.“
That afternoon the vote, augmented by signed proxy statements, went overwhelmingly in favor of instructing the board of directors to cease its efforts to obtain the Main Street space. But then a new controversy immediately broke out over whether the vote was legally binding. This argument continued two weeks later at the annual membership meeting, held last Thursday at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Things began civilly enough as members signed in, received their two complimentary drink tickets and chatted amiably. People certainly hadn’t dressed for a bloodbath: Patt Morrison wore one of her trademark velvet hats, while treasurer Dusty Brandel sported a brim bearing a pair of roses and Aric Barab wore his burgundy beret.
President Moore opened the meeting by mentioning a trip to Ireland she had just made, comparing the resilience of the Irish and their ability to turn bad situations around, with the P.C.‘s ability to confront its points of contention and move on. But when the agenda eventually reached the discussion of the move, quite a different kind of Irish analogy seemed apt as a rancorous, intractable debate broke out. ”Shut the hell up!“ and ”I don’t care what your attorney said!“ were among the pleasantries yelled by members at each other. It was Patriotic Hall all over again, with the waving of proxy affidavits and the air crackling with parliamentary points of order and motions to overrule those points of order, and claims and counterclaims about the binding nature of the Bradley Room vote. Although the Roosevelt meeting presented a more balanced seating of the two sides, when it was over the P.C. was no closer to deciding on a new home than it was before the meeting. The stalemate over its location continues -- as does the uncivil war among its members. ”This is way more than I bargained for a year ago,“ rued Moore.
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