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Beach Park Women's Club uncovers a parlor

BEACH PARK

Before she called her first meeting to order, president Helene Pepper began to get the Beach Park Women's clubhouse in order.

Like the other 75 members, Pepper never paid much attention to a curtained-off room adjoining the foyer of the building on West Shore Boulevard near Swann Avenue.

Until one day in September, peeking behind "an ugly, green curtain," Pepper saw "possibilities."

Old chairs and card tables, garden hoses and broken windows filled a 15-by-12-foot mildewed room, once the vaulted walkway to the Beach Park Co. real estate sales office, circa 1923.

If the club's mission was the "betterment and beautification" of Beach Park, thought Pepper, why not start right there?

Off went the chicken wire covering windows disintegrating from water damage.

Out went the junk— some donated, the rest discarded.

"I call it a chamber of horrors," said Patte Ayala, a club member since 1954.

New windows and commercial carpet were installed. Walls got a coat of pale rose paint, trimmed in white.

An original Moorish-style light fixture got a shining. Two heavy cement shields engraved with the letters BP were hung on either side of double doors that had been bolted shut for decades. Wicker furniture was arranged for conversations.

"I almost cried when I saw it," Ayala said.

Friday, members will see the $2,000 renovation when they arrive at the annual Silver Coffee — "the first one at the clubhouse instead of a member's home in about 50 years," says Ayala.

Wait till they see the photographs, Pepper adds.

Betty Cox took on the job of enlarging and framing several vintage pictures, with help from Bob Baggett Photography. Among them, a view of the tiny real estate office when the walkway, now the sunny sitting room, led to a landscaped reflecting pool and fountain.

Once relegated to a shelf in the bathroom, the 1920s photos provoke a history lesson of how the neighborhood was envisioned.

"All homes were to be a Mediterranean design with stucco exteriors and terra-cotta roofs," Pepper said. "Thus the architectural similarity that makes the 60 or 70 homes remaining so interesting."

The lakes, yacht basins and a Venetian-style boathouse with gondolas imagined by the developers "never got to fruition because of the Great Depression."

Residents who didn't lose their homes formed a civic association and a garden club, which later became Beach Park Women's Club. When the property was deeded to the club in the 1950s, a large meeting room, restrooms and kitchen were added.

Until the end of World War II, Beach Park was considered "country," and up to 10 chickens and one horse were permitted per residence.

Ayala shows off her favorite picture, "probably taken in 1955 or '56,'' she said, remembering the occasion vividly.

"That's me modeling at a club fashion show in a gorgeous red silk evening gown."

Amy Scherzer can be reached at ascherzer@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3332.

Beach Park Women's Club uncovers a parlor 12/09/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 9, 2010 3:31am]

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