Ebell Building: A Well-Kept Secret

There was a time, I’m sure, when the Ebell Club’s building was the talk of the town. Unless you are a member of the Ebell Society of Santa Ana Valley or a member of the Santa Ana Rotary, you may not be familiar with this “east of Main” beautiful Mediterranean building at 625 French Street. The Ebell Society still uses the 1924 red-tiled tan classic as their meeting place, just as they have for over 100 years.

The Rotary Club meets there also. I’ve been several times to Rotary meetings and they had the members welcome me. They used to do this by having you stand while they sang a song modeled after “Hernando’s Hideaway,” the close of which was punctuated by the members loudly banging their hands on their tables. If your are not ready for this, one might assume it is “the big one” and dash for the exit.

At the first Rotary meeting I attended in the early 80s, the members roundly voted down the idea of admitting women as members. I remember thinking, here we were in a building created as the meeting place of noted—if not famous—women, and these “tenants” were blocking them from joining their organization. In an instant liberal daydream, I imagined Ebells running in and driving stakes through the hearts of the Rotary members, while I was spared for declaring that I was not a member and loved women. It worked in the dream; me and Al Pacino.

The captivating Rotary meetings were hopelessly overshadowed by a wonderful building. I recall walking amazed from part to part, endlessly surprised by the building’s finish, detail and terrific content. It has one of the most successful outdoor small-center courtyards (seating 100) of any building in my memory. The facility has a 522-person large auditorium and a dining facility seating 250.

The 12,400 square foot Ebell building was a dream realized in 1924 by the Santa Ana Ebell Society. The construction was completed by the noted contractor Sam Preble, and it was designed by architect Frederick Ely, who later designed the Santa Ana YMCA using a very similar Mediterranean-influenced entry.

The Ebell of Oakland (the original club) was founded in 1876 and named for Dr. Adrien Ebell of Berlin. Dr. Ebell created an international academy dedicated to the “study of the exact sciences, including music, art, and the languages.” Not long after, the Oakland group severed ties with Berlin and, in 1894, several members opened the Los Angeles and later the Santa Ana Ebell Society. The Santa Ana Club had a roster of over 1200 women in the early 1960s and the Club was very popular. Today’s membership is 200-plus.

The building is outside the north boundary of the City’s North Historic District. The Historic French Park Association nominated the building for the City’s local Historic Register in 1982. It is thought that the building is significant enough to be a stand-alone member on the National Register of Historic Places

(Donald Krotee, “Architecturally Speaking,” Downtown Business News, July 1999)