A Monument to Ham 'n Eggs
A Monument to Ham 'n Eggs
The Southland has always had more than its share of groups devoted to the ritual worship of one thing or another. These groups usually fade away pretty quickly. A noteworthy exception is the Los Angeles Breakfast Club, which has hung around on the fringes of Griffith Park for the better part of 70 years. A big part of its lasting appeal is its unabashed worshipcome hell or high cholesterolof ham 'n eggs.
Once visited by presidents, captains of industry, the world's royalty, war heroes and assorted celebrities, the Breakfast Club lives a lower-profile existence these days.
But every Wednesday morning, the faithful still meet at the Friendship Auditorium at 3201 Riverside Drive to greet one another with a hearty "Hi, Ham!" or "Hi, Egg!" If the mood strikes them, they may crow like roosters. And it's dead certain that they'll sing about ham 'n eggs and decipher the mysterious Breakfast Club cryptogram . . .FVNEM? (Have we any ham?)
SVFM (Yes we have ham)
FVNEX? (Have we any eggs?)
SVFX (Yes we have eggs)
OICVFMNX! (Oh I see we have ham and eggs!)
Began with Well-Heeled Horsemen
All of this good-natured silliness and the unique group of people it has drawn has its roots in Griffith Park. In the 1920s, the park's trails had become a favorite spot for equestrians. Busy businessmen particularly liked the close-in wilderness because it offered them a place to ride on weekday mornings before work.
By fall 1924, a group of men prominent in the business, professional and social life of the region fell into an informal ritual. After their Friday morning rides, they'd eat breakfast in the park, gathering around a chuckwagon operated as a sideline by local banker Marco Hellman. Afterward, most of them rode back to the Griffith Park Riding Academy on Riverside Drive.
One morning, Hellman had a bank president from Chicago as his honored guest. He hired musicians and encouraged the visitor to tell stories. The event was such a success that Maurice DeMond, a local merchant and director of the Los Angeles National Horse Show, proposed on the spot that everyone present contribute $100 toward formation of a breakfast club.
An Impressive Membership
Charter members included such local business leaders as W.W. "Billy" Mines, owner of Mines (air) Field; Edward L. Doheny, a prominent oilman; and Earle C. Anthony, Packard Dealer and owner of radio station KFI.
The group was also laden with entertainment industry heavyweights, including Louis B. Mayer, Jack and Harry Warner, Cecil B. DeMille, Darryl Zanuk, Jesse L. Lasky, Leo Carillo and Tom Mix. Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan, was the club's first secretary.
The club prospered. DeMond was soon able to secure a headquarters at the former Crosetti Dairy Farm across from the Riding Academy. It was converted into a club office, meeting hall, kitchen, locker room and showers. Big-name entertainers and acts played the Breakfast Club, including Guy Lombardo, Rudy Vallee and the Vienna Boys Choir. The Warner Brothers donated 90 minutes weekly on radio station KFWB so that the Breakfast Club's programs could be broadcast in their entirety.
But even more than big-name entertainment, the club was built on the foundations of friendship, good-natured silliness and ham 'n eggsbut not necessarily in that order.
When special opportunities presented themselves, the group tried to work ham 'n eggs into the picture. For example, when airplane builder Anthony H.G. Fokker was a guest, club members were taken up in one of his big trimotor planes for "Ham 'n Eggs in the Air."
And when a visiting dignitary was given the high honor of becoming an honorary member the honoree was asked to pledge allegiance to the club by sticking one hand into a plate of scrambled eggs.
One such dignitary was Calvin Coolidge, who was President at the time. Club lore has it that he was shaking hands with members without cracking a smile. Then Will Rogers won a $100 bet by breaking him up. "I'm sorry," Rogers said as he gripped the President's hand. "I didn't get your name."
Success, Then Depression
By 1927 the initiation fee had gone up to $500and 70 new members joined up during the first six months of the year. The club built a new breakfast hall called the Pavillion of Friendship and a new riding ring for horse shows. Dr. Rufus B. von KleinSmid, president of the University of Southern California, became president of the club.
But within a few years things began to fall apart. The Great Depression slowed the pace of new memberships. The entrance fee was reduced. DeMond, still the club's dominant figure, died of a heart attack on June 24, 1931. Club members didn't know until after his death that worsening economic conditions had left the club $83,000 in debt. By December 1933 the situation had become grave enough that the Breakfast Club had to leave its site at the foot of Griffith Park.
After several years at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard, the club obtained a headquarters on Los Feliz Boulevard near the park in 1937 and built a permanent headquarters on park property in 1965.
Today, the club continues on its peculiar way, meeting each Wednesday morning for good fellowship, to hear a guest speaker and, of course, to partake of ham 'n eggs. (For more information about the Los Angeles Breakfast Club, call (213)662-1191)
Writer's note: This article, one of an occasional series, is part of the Griffith Park History Project, an attempt to chronicle the park's long and remarkable life.
What memories do you have of Griffith Park? Suggestions? Questions? Criticisms?
Please call me at Glendale College 240-1000, Ext. 5352 (I have voice mail, so you can leave a message at any time.)
Write to me, Mike Eberts, Griffith Park History Project, Glendale Community College, 1500 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale, CA 91208.
E-mail me at MEberts@glendale.cc.ca.us
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