La Merienda Luncheon

By Lynda Millner   |   August 16, 2018
Mayor Cathy Murillo and SBWC La Merienda chair Sue Ziliotto.

The Santa Barbara Women’s Club (SBWC) began a tradition, which is now 90 years old – the La Merienda Luncheon. The Clubhouse at Rockwood is open to the public. Along with lunch, there is a program of Spanish dancers and musicians that ends with Mexican cookies served on the patio. Folks join the fun by wearing colorful Fiesta costumes. The event must be one of the oldest traditions in Santa Barbara.

The SBWC grew out of the Fortnightly Club in 1892. It was founded to advance the civic and cultural enlightenment of its members. The club didn’t want to meet in homes and instead found a clubhouse upstairs at 1235 State. By the end of the first year, there were 97 members.

One of their main problems was lack of hitching posts for their carriages on Equestrian Avenue. A complaint was issued to the city fathers (probably the city husbands) and posts were promptly made available.

Needing larger quarters, they moved two blocks west to the former home of Dr. Harriet Belcher. The previous tenant of the house, Arlington Jockey Club, left because they felt the house was haunted.

In 1896, the Club moved again to 6 Arlington Avenue. Now they had an auditorium for 150 people. Membership was limited to 100 permanent members, 25 temporary, and 25 half-members who lived here only for the season. Dues were $6 per year. In 1910, they bought a vacant lot at 1400 Anacapa Street to build on.

WW1 had a big impact on the club, as noted by the president’s address. “The demands upon women are growing greater each day… She must take the man’s place as he is called out, and more and more there is need of the volunteer worker. There can be no leisure women, and it is the duty of the trained worker to inspire the slacker amongst us to do her share.”

Several members had a hand in the bond measures that led to the publicly owned beachfront and harbor we enjoy today.

Past Saint Barbaras: Leanne Figueroa 2013, Linda Romero 1987, Betty Dominguez 2002, Sue Harrison Zilotto 1966, Anne Petersen 2018, Robin Cederlof 2017, Mary Louise Days 1965, Gloria Dominguez 2000

In 1927, the Rockwood Inn in Mission Canyon burned down. The president Mrs. Max Schott drove past the ruins and thought it was an ideal location for a new clubhouse. She put $100 down and the architectural firm of Edwards, Plunkett, and Howell who designed the Arlington began work. The clubhouse opened in 1928.

Parking was always a problem even for buggies, so a neighbor gave the group a good deal on the lot next door. By 1954, they needed more space and then came the Garden Room, the Flower Room, a storage room, and a kitchen remodel.

An array of celebs has been hosted over the years such as Helen Keller in 1914, Carl Sandburg, Huell Howser, Jon Morrow Lindberg, Steve Allen, Marilyn Monroe, Vincent Price, and more. Their names are in the guest book.

In 1923, attorney William Griffith spoke on good government: “Here is your city – you can do one of three things with it. If you do not like it, you can leave; if you approve of it, remember it will not improve of itself; and if you love it, you can make it the city of which you have dreamed, a bigger and better Santa Barbara.” Sounds like good advice in 2018.

This year, Sue Ziliotto chaired the luncheon and emceed the program with dancers from the Linda Vega and Zermeno schools, including the senior and junior spirits. Gil Rosas, who has been entertaining folks for 65 years, played for us Spanish and Mexican songs.

Here’s a toast to the SBWC for carrying on their traditions for more than a century.


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