Games People Play: A Press Photo of Hillcrest Country Club Golf Pro Lewis Scott, October 1925

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Despite the fact that there were many Jews in Los Angeles who achieved success, including financial, in their chosen professions, anti-Semitic feeling still prevailed among certain elements of society in the Angel City.  One of these was in the realm of elite social clubs, among which, in connection to sports, was the country club.

This condition led a cadre of successful Jews, in film, finance, manufacturing and other areas, to form the Hillcrest Country Club because of restrictions against them in other clubs in the city, including the nearby Wilshire and Los Angeles clubs.  Launched in summer 1920, the club purchased 140 acres for $50,000 from Henry Huntington’s land company, issued bonds to pay for the project, set aside 250 memberships, hired the famed designer William Watson to lay out the course, and, for the clubhouse, Jewish architects Abram Edelman, whose father was the city’s first rabbi, and his nephew Leo Burnett, who were assisted by Sumner Hunt and Silas R. Burns, Jr.

Los Angeles Express, 5 May 1921.

Located at 10000 W. Pico Boulevard, the club property was just outside Los Angeles city limits when the project was being developed, though it was soon annexed.  An early reference to the building of the facility was in early May 1921, when D. Scott Chisholm, the golf writer for the Los Angeles Express wrote approvingly of “Watson’s Masterpiece,” adding that the designer referred to the site “one of the sportiest and best adapted pieces of land  that he ever saw for a championship course” and which left Chisholm writing that it was “a revelation.”

The sandy loam soil was “the glory of the greens experts” while those parts of the site lacking that quality were remediated by the import of the stuff and there was plenty of water.  Chisholm added that Scott, a native of golf’s homeland, Scotland, had a design in mind that provided greens which “savor more of the seaside courses of the old country” while the traps and pits were not as unforgiving as other courses designed by Watson, whose work included the recently completed Hacienda Country Club in the new community of La Habra Heights.

Los Angeles Times, 11 September 1921.

At that early date, some 190 reservations for memberships were already taken, a testament to the desire for Jews to have a world-class facility of their own.  Chisholm complimented the leading lights of the organization saying that each was “a shrewd and wide awake business man of unquestioned integrity.”  Mentioned were greens committee chair Joseph Y. Baruh of the Zellerbach Paper Company, coffee manufacturer S.M. Newmark, Louis Nordlinger, a jeweler whose uncle Simon founding the Los Angeles firm in 1869, and banker Irving H. Hellman.

Baruh and Hellman were among a foursome playing at the San Gabriel Country Club, of which Walter P. Temple, owner of the Homestead at the time, was a member, when the idea was hatched for creating a Jewish country club.  The article ended with Chisholm stating “everything surely looks sweet and rosy for a grand opening” in October, though it was over six months before that occurred.

Times, 11 September 1921.

In June 1921, the contract was let for the construction of the $75,000 frame clubhouse, which measured 120′ x 200′ when completed.  A few months later, an architectural rendering of the building was published in the Los Angeles Times as one of “Two Noteworthy Improvements for the City’s Suburbs.” By then, the cost of the English Colonial building, with a weathered gray clapboard exterior ballooned to $110,000 while about $400,000 was spent developing the course.

Separate reception and dining rooms “can be thrown into one for dances and formal entertainments” while there was a women’s sun room, lounge, showers and 100 lockers.  For the gents, a separate grill served them, while there were 210 lockers along with the showers and dressing rooms.  For all, there were tennis courts and a big swimming pool in front of the clubhouse.  While the structure was anticipated to be finished by the end of the year, a formal opening would wait until early in 1922.

Express, 30 May 1922.

That grand debut, however, did not occur until 15 April, when the Express merely noted that “today the Hillcrest Country Club golf course was opened to its members and invited friends.”  There could be found no other articles about the inauguration of the club, though.  On 30 May, however, Chisholm wrote of being invited to Hillcrest by Herman Politz. owner of a men’s clothing store and who was “one of the club’s best players.”  Chisholm gushed “what a beautiful clubhouse it has.  And what a delightful course.”

He was impressed with the variety in the layout of the holes “that are different from any around this neck of the woods.”  In all, the sportswriter felt that “it is quite the best course that William Watson has laid out” with the exception perhaps of one in San Diego.  Despite the hilly character of the site, the designer deserved kudos for making it “pleasingly easy to walk over,” carts not yet being part of the golfing experience.

Express, 9 February 1924.

It is not surprising that, as greater Los Angeles was in the midst of another one of its series of major development booms, residential projects soon sprung up in the area.  A prominent one was Beverly Acres, an ad for which from February 1924, promoted its position adjacent to Hillcrest and near the soon-to-be moved Los Angeles Speedway, the proposed Beverly Hills High School, and the new Fox Studios.

With its prime location along Pico Boulevard “the main business artery and shortest route of travel to the beaches,” the tract was deemed “Sure as Death and Taxes” because “Los Angeles Real Estate is the safest investment in the world.”  The subdividers, the Harris-Herzig Company, of what is now the Beverlywood neighborhood advised prospective buyers that “a money-making opportunity knocks at everybody’s door once or twice, but don’t think for an instant that it will tear the door down to beg you to embrace it.”

Times, 22 November 1924

The connection of Hillcrest to the burgeoning film industry, which was increasingly developing in the west side, including Fox and the Ince Studios in nearby Culver City, which later became Columbia and is now Sony, was manifested in the development of a film involving club members and the newly established conglomerate of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  Among its early members were Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner and Adolph Zukor.  In November 1924, the Times published a photo of ten club members who appeared in Where Is My Wandering Daddy? filmed at MGM and apparently exclusively a Hillcrest project.

Tonight’s highlighted object from the Homestead’s holdings is a press photo from October 1925 of newly hired club pro Lewis Scott posed near the clubhouse and teed up to hit a ball.  Scott, sporting a snap-brim cap, colorful horizontal striped sweater, a natty bow tie, golf trousers, tall socks, and two-tone shoes, was lured away from a job at the San Diego Country Club, the Watson-designed course that Chisholm thought might be better than Hillcrest.  A native of Carnoustie, Scotland, a coastal town near Dundee, Scott was welcomed with a full-length photo in the Express early in the month.

Express, 16 October 1925.

On the 15th, Scott made a big splash early in his tenure when he took professional auto race Harry Unger, no doubt entered in a contest at the nearby speedway, for a practice round.   As reported by Chisholm, the pair were at the second hole, which had a short 155-yard fairway, though on a steep rise, when “Scott took out his old-fashioned mashie iron and hit the ball slightly to the left of the flag, where it got just the right break into the green.”

As the ball veered toward the cup, “a howl that could be heard at Venice rent the air as Scott’s ball actually dropped into the hole for his second hole in one in a checkered career.”  For this, Chisholm concluded with a “Bravo, Lewis!”  The Times noted the achievement, as well, adding that Scott was “one of the most popular big guns in the West” and “is keeping just quiet enough to make people find out a bunch of favorable things about him.”  One of these was this hole-in-one for the benefit of the race car driver, “who should still be gasping.”

Hillcrest, which will be celebrating its centennial quite soon and which began accepting gentile members decades ago (the first being Danny Thomas and others including Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley,  actors Sidney Poitier and Jack Lemmon, and film producers Darryl and Richard Zanuck) has been as well known for its food as its course, which was extensively redone a couple of years ago, while its “Round Table” of comedian members met each day in the men’s grill and included such legends as the Marx Brothers, Jack Benny, Danny Kaye, Milton Berle, Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, Milton Berle, and George Burns, who continued to play his regular bridge game until just a couple of days before his death.  When Berle died in 2002, he was the last of the members of that legendary group.

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