It is an integral part of Manhattan Beach history.
In 1909, ten local women—who would become the founding members of the Neptunian Woman’s Club—purchased a plot of land for $500 on the corner of Highland and Tenth Avenue.
A clubhouse was built on the spot at 920 Highland Avenue in 1924 and became the home base for the community-renowned philanthropic organization that provides scholarships to local students by renting out its facility for events.
But as of late, the clubhouse for the volunteer-based nonprofit, which now boasts more than 250 members, had fallen into serious disrepair, according to Neptunian representatives.
“The building was deteriorating. So we really couldn’t rent it out any longer and that’s how we make our money to provide scholarships to kids in need,” said Neptunians’ President Jan Fleming.
Thus, the Neptunians began the process of a total overhaul on the building last June and revealed a modernized clubhouse to a crowd of hundreds, including city officials, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony May 14.
The $750,000 renovation, designed by local architect Michael Lee, included an external remodel, making the bathrooms handicap accessible, electrical updates, a new kitchen and the installation of air conditioning, according to Fleming.
“We put air conditioning in so we don’t bother the neighbors because that way we keep the windows closed and there will be no sound problems,” Fleming explained.
The clubhouse is surrounded by a completely residential zone, a fact which Community Development Director Anne McIntosh said will limit the Neptunians to in-house events for the time being.
“We haven’t worked this out with them yet,” McIntosh said in a May 14 email to The Beach Reporter. “For now...the club facility is a non-comforming use in the residential zone. This limits the Neptunians to using the facility for Club events only.”
McIntosh added the club will have to receive an annual entertainment permit to host other events.
That permit, she said, will limit the number of private events allowed per month and the hours of the events. It will also mandate additional permits for valet parking as well as the provision of alcohol.
Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Hersman, who is also a former Neptunians’ member, noted the limitations are intended to protect the neighborhood, but said the renovation of the clubhouse is important for the community as a whole.
“They started Manhattan Beach, these ladies. And it’s going to continue. It’s just going to keep on going and that’s what’s important - the continuity we have here,” she said.
While Hersman liked the renovation, which she termed ‘very modern,’ she said she missed the iconic mermaid mural which used to preside over Highland Avenue on the club’s west-facing exterior wall.
The painted tile has been removed and replaced with a full glass wall that opens up, giving the building an ocean view.
The decade-old artwork’s removal was controversial and illegal, as artist Dawn Whitney-Hall was not notified beforehand.
Fleming explained the mural was not salvageable due to the way it was cemented, but said amends have been made between the club and artist, noting the Neptunians returned a smaller mural Whitney-Hall painted back to her.
“It’s all settled. Our lawyer contacted hers and they sent a representative to pick it up so she has the little one back. I understand art is very personal and we didn’t mean to upset her,” Fleming continued, also noting the Neptunians were not aware of art protection laws at the time.
The Neptunian President added that the new ocean view harkens back to the original clubhouse design prior to a 1956 remodel and is her favorite part of the renovations.
Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce President Kelly Stroman, who organized the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the club, said the beautiful new space is a perfect fit for the community.
“To be able to have something in downtown, steps from the beach that can accommodate a couple hundred people for a celebration is exciting to us,” she said.
Stroman added she looks forward to referring Chamber members to the Neptunians’ space for event hosting.
Past President Linda LeRoy said she is excited the refurbishments are complete so that the Neptunians can get back to fulfilling the club’s mission.
“This is what we do, we give out scholarships. The more we can rent and be kind to our neighbors, the more we can raise money for philanthropic efforts. That’s our goal,” LeRoy said.