By Jorge Casuso
October 19, 2023 -- A one-story commercial building that served as a meeting hall in what was once Santa Monica's thriving Black community could become a historic landmark next year.
The Santa Monica Conservancy announced Wednesday it has filed an application for the 65-year-old meeting hall built and owned by the Philomathean Club, one of the oldest African American women’s clubs in Southern California.
"Soon people will see the corner of 18th and Broadway in a more meaningful way, and future generations will have the opportunity to know this history.”
Philomathean Charity Club Founding Sisters (Courtesy Santa Monica Public Library Image Archives)
| Known as Philomathean Hall, the mid-century commercial building at 1810 Broadway was built in 1958 in the heart of the city's Black community by members of the club founded in 1921.
“This structure visually represents a century of charitable deeds provided to people in Santa Monica and other communities," said Carolyne Edwards, a Philomathean Club member who sits on the Conservancy Board.
"It will tell the story about seven ladies who had a dream that has multiplied over the years and is still being carried on by current members,” said Edwards, a co-founder of the Quinn Research Center (QRC), which promotes Black family history and culture in the Santa Monica Bay area.
The building is at the heart of a stretch of Broadway between 14th and 20th Streets that was "one of several lively hubs of Black life in Santa Monica," according to the QRC.
In 1960, the LA Times reported that as many as 550 Black families may have been displaced from the area to build the new Interstate Highway 10, the center noted.
"Once designated," Conservancy officials said, "Philomathean Hall will become the first landmarked building along this historic stretch of Broadway to celebrate Santa Monica’s African American history."
The founders of the Philomathean Club held their first meetings at the home of its organizer and first president Eleanor Layne on the 1500 block of 5th Street, according to QRC.
"The Philamathean Charity Literary and Art Club was formed by African American women for African American women and provided layettes to new mothers as well as other supplies to the needy," according to the center.
In 1935, the Club's seventh president, Annie Colemana, put the first down payment on a lot on 17th Street that was up for sale, according to the QRC. On March 28, 1958, the Club held a cornerstone laying ceremony for its new location at 1810 Broadway.
The structure, which currently houses a private peschool, was originally built as a meeting hall that included two retail spaces, allowing the club "to engage in community building while paying their mortgage," Conservancy officials said.
Helped by the rental income, Philomathean Club "has supported a range of social services, given financial support, and provided educational opportunities in the community for over one hundred years," Conservancy officials said.
"In 1970, after a successful 'Mrs. Philamathean' fundraiser pageant, the Club was finally able to pay off the mortgage," the QRC said. "The Mortgage Burning Celebration was held on April 19, 1970."
Since paying the mortgage, the rental income from the property has been directed into a college scholarship program for Black high school students.
The application filled by the Conservancy will be reviewed by Santa Monica Landmarks Commission staff and submitted for review and approval by the Landmarks Commission next year.
"In recognition of the club’s deep significance to the local community, the Conservancy worked closely with Philomathean officials and the Quinn Research Center (QRC) to prepare the Landmark application," Conservancy officials said.