LONG BEFORE THE ERA of self-proclaimed “South Park conservatives” thumbing their noses at media elites, there was the Jonathan Club, founded in 1894 by “a group of young Republicans who preferred each other’s company to that of the hoi polloi, ordinary Republicans,” according to author Nat B. Read in The Jonathan Club Story. Read’s 2005 book says “the Jonathan Club has never been stronger than it is today,” with its two major facilities, downtown’s Jonathan Town Club, and the Jonathan Beach Club near the Santa Monica Pier.
Certainly, its financials are strong: In 2005 and 2006, assets were around $32 million. Initiation, by invitation or through marriage to a member, costs $30,000, plus monthly dues of $350. It maintains a luxury box at Staples Center, surely a most contemporary sign of importance. But while the club — apparently named for patriotic caricature Brother Jonathan, who predated Uncle Sam — was once a visible political player, it hasn’t made much news since 2000, when then Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer wrote about its history of discrimination against women and minorities, and the layoffs of Jonathan Club employees who supported Santa Monica’s living-wage plan (the club claimed the timing of the layoffs was coincidental).
Now, internecine fighting is bringing it once more into the public eye, in a manner members aren’t likely to appreciate. In recent days, the so-called Mooring Room, a popular meeting spot for the Jonathan Yacht Club at the downtown facility, was shuttered amid a nasty exchange over whether male members used the nautically decorated lounge to have sex with girls they met over the Internet.
In e-mails sent to many of the club’s roughly 3,600 members and obtained by the L.A. Weekly, it appears the charges originated with Grant W. Ivey, longtime “commodore” of the Jonathan Yacht Club, a subclub described in a Palisadian-Post article last summer as “the only yacht club in the world . . . where no one owns a boat.”
The Jonathan Club features 50 such specialized clubs. The club calendar for September–December 2006 lists two yacht-based events: a Christmas party on a rented 100-footer and a “Dockside Meeting” on a 62-foot yacht. Yacht Club members often meet in the Mooring Room — 15 miles from the ocean, with nary a glimpse of the sea.
As Ivey wrote on December 27: “Our Mooring Room was a big temptation for ‘The Boys’ who found out they could use OUR [sic] Liquor Locker supplies and room for the personal entertainment of girls they met over the internet. Because of personal knowledge and JYC members’ complaints about our room being used for this ungentlemanly behavior, liability issues, possible rape lawsuits, potential underage girls being entertained . . . I looked at what the Jonathan Club was doing as a deterrent.”
Ivey was ousted after Eric W. Swenson, secretary of the Jonathan Club board of directors, sent a December 21 letter to Yacht Club members stating that, on the basis of a policy approved by the board in 2000, only resident members in good standing could preside over a subclub. Ivey, a member through his wife, was suddenly ineligible.
Yet Ivey, who did not respond to a request for an interview, informed members via e-mail that when he pursued a plan to ban members from placing a “do not disturb” sign on the Mooring Room door, some club leaders decided to oust him. He also claimed he had permission from the Town Club’s manager to install security cameras in the Mooring Room, yet was stopped by the Jonathan Club’s board.
(The Weekly tried to reach key figures in the controversy, but only Sitrick and Company, a media-crisis firm hired by wealthy clients facing bad press, called back. Anita-Marie Laurie, a $425-per-hour Sitrick staffer and member of the Jonathan Club, told the Weekly Ivey was ousted because the Yacht Club failed to seek an “exception” allowing him to remain commodore.)
In an e-mail to club members beginning “Dear Shipmates,” Ivey’s wife, Gail, briefly claimed the commodore title — but was overruled. The title finally went to member John Frazee.
Have rich guys really been getting it on in the Mooring Room of a club so touchy about its image that wearing “soiled” clothing is prohibited? Or is Ivey just lashing out because he was removed as longtime commodore?
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Frazee, the new commodore, sent an e-mail to members December 31 characterizing Ivey’s take on events as “egregious, inaccurate, full of mis-truths and offensive implications.” Without addressing Ivey’s comments on rape lawsuits and underage girls, Frazee stated, “It was discovered that information Mr. Ivey had given us regarding his dealings with the Jonathan Club Board and management about the camera issue was inaccurate, inflammatory, and in some cases, untrue [emphasis ours].”
Ivey responded with a chastened e-mail — which Laurie called a retraction, saying it shows his allegations were “completely without merit.” In it, Ivey stated, “I certainly did not mean to imply that [club members] or anyone had sex with underage girls, committed rape, or stole anything from the Yacht Club room. I only mentioned the possibility of these issues occurring because I had concern of such things for possible future liability to the Club.”
So, did Ivey simply have a vivid imagination? Could be. But on December 28, Jonathan Club general manager Norm Rich “secured” the Mooring Room, denying access to the lounge until the club’s executive committee can review things.
Then, club members got another mass e-mail just a few days ago. A bit too late, it instructed them not to communicate with anyone in the media.