Sunday, January 20, 2008

"The Chosen Few" by Adair Lara

S.F.'s exclusive clubs carry on traditions of fellowship, culture
-- and discrimination
San Francisco Chronicle (CA)-July 18, 2004
Author: Adair Lara, Chronicle Staff Writer

On Saturday, some 2,000 CEOs and politicos and arty types
arrived at the cool redwoods and lily-choked lake of the Grove, the
famous Russian River playground of the powerful Bohemian Club.
They say it's the place to be seen in America in July.
Except, of course, you can't see them.
Signs abound: No Thru Traffic. No Trespassing. Members and
Guests Only. No Turn Around. Sentries scan the paths from above with
binoculars, helped out by infrared sensors.
And what are those important men doing out there for 17 days
behind that elaborate security?
Slipping into frocks and putting on pageants. The Bohemian
Club, a beguiling mix of ultra-power hangout and high school play, is
one of several elite private clubs in San Francisco, curious islands of
conservatism amid a forest of Kerry for President signs.
Of these, the Big Four are the Bohemian Club, the stodgy
Pacific-Union Club atop Nob Hill, the gigantic sports-minded Olympic
Club, and the tiny ultra-exclusive San Francisco Golf Club straddling the
line between San Francisco and Daly City.
Two admit women. Two do not. One admits women in town, but not
in the country -- and not after dark.
None admits the poor, except in white jackets.
Or so sources say. Information is not easy to come by. It's
secret stuff, very hush-hush. Members consent to talk to a reporter
only if their names are withheld, and then say only the most laudatory
things. They're just following the rules. The bylaws for the
Pacific-Union Club, for example, read: "No information regarding any Club activity
or function shall be released by anyone to the media."
Also, one suspects, secrecy is part of the fun.
It's impossible to talk about private clubs in this day and age
without sounding censorious, but people have always liked having the
right to choose who joins their private associations. Mills College in
Oakland resisted a demand to let male students in. Many book clubs ban
men because the women want to read "The Hours" and the men would want
to read the new Alexander Hamilton biography. There are a number of fancy
women's clubs here, such as the Town & Country (said to be the
female Pacific-Union Club).
We all like to gang together with people like us, and men seem
to like it even more than women do. If there were only five men in all
of North America, three of them would sneak out behind the house and
start a club. The other two would not be asked to join.
Clubs are reproved for excluding various sets of people, but
excluding is, after all, the point. If there is to be an "us," there has to
a "not us." (Or your club is Costco.)
And as one member remarked, when it comes to women, "It's not
excluding. It's getting away from."
When Augusta National in Georgia was pressured, unsuccessfully,
to accept women two years ago, the appropriately named Mary Anne Case,
a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, couldn't think of
a reason for its refusal to admit females "that doesn't involve
somehow girls having cooties."
These relics of the age of exclusion seem to be in no danger of
going the way of other 19th century institutions. John van der Zee,
who lives in Healdsburg, posed as a waiter at the Bohemian Grove one
summer and wrote the 1974 book "The Greatest Men's Party on Earth."
"When I did the book," he said, "I thought it would be valedictory. A way of
life that was ending."
That was 30 years ago. Today these clubs have long waiting
lists. Paul B. "Red" Fay Jr., former undersecretary of the Navy who's
on the roster of the San Francisco Golf Club (SFGC), the Bohemian Club
(BC) and the Pacific-Union Club (PU), said, somewhat tautologically but
sincerely, "The reason there's such a big demand is because everybody
wants to get in them. "

-- -- --

"PU is the pre-eminent club," said Sally Debenham, a San
Francisco socialite. "The crème de la crème. Big, big heavy players
in the
PU Club. They take it seriously, the little darlings."

The Pacific-Union's prohibitions have been characterized, said
Merla Zellerbach, as "no women, no Democrats, no reporters."

It's old guard, old money -- and many of the members are just
plain old.

The joke is that guest speakers must stop "when you hear the
canes rattle." It's housed in what travel writer Jan Morris described
an "inconceivably gloomy" mansion standing on a block by itself on the
crest of Nob Hill.

Belonging to a club like this says a lot about who you are.
Tell someone you're a member of the Pacific-Union Club, and you are
you made it through a rigorous vetting to filter out the "not us."

One local intellectual property lawyer joined seven years ago
when he was 40. The selection process included a preliminary statement
on his behalf by a Proposer and Seconder after which he got 12
sponsoring members and then took 10 members of the committee to dinner

One member described how it feels to play squash at the
Pacific-Union Club and have a glass of wine afterward with his male
"It's an incalculatingly wonderful feeling, that of belonging," he

Mostly, the members are old white guys. They want younger faces
at all these clubs, but by the time people work their way up the
waiting lists, the dew is off the bloom. The lawyer who went through
lengthy process to join the PU is also on a waiting list for the
Club. He's been on it for 20 years.

Even stringent latter-day lunch policies haven't discouraged
membership. Like many clubs, the PU has always asked members to dine
there so many times a quarter. But members can no longer deduct the
as a business expense. That's illegal if a club discriminates based on
age, sex or race. In fact, club rules forbid talking business at all
or even reading the business page. Architect George Livermore, who
belongs to this club, the Bohemian Club and the Olympic Club, said,
recently put out a notice saying it's been called to the attention of
managers that papers have been brought to the table! " He said the
is now almost empty at lunch.

Women can't lunch in the main dining room, only in a side room.
When venture capitalist Annette Campbell-White worked for Hambrecht
Quist, the firm had a luncheon at the PU Club to welcome new partners
and told her she couldn't attend -- then she could, but had to come in
the back door. One partner accused her of ruining the party and
suggested, she recalled, that next time she "take a business trip."

Even the wives of members are asked to come in by the back
door, Debenham said. She had foot problems once and used the front. It
strange. "I was so trained to come in the back door."

Livermore doesn't know why women can't come as guests.
"Anything you include women in is always exciting," he said, noting
the Olympic
Club was smart to always allow women as guests. "Now that women are
almost people," he joked, "why don't the other clubs do that?"

-- -- --

The San Francisco Golf Club is so shy, Debenham said, it won't
give out directions. "Even members get lost trying to find the place."

Notice to lost members: You can find those undulating greens
and gingerbready clubhouse behind those unnaturally tall eucalyptus
in back of the "John Daly Blvd" freeway sign on I-280 just past San
Francisco State. Slow at the sign for Thomas Moore Church and drive
the discreetly blocking shrubbery until you see the small sign: "SF
Golf Club, Private."

This club wishes to continue to fly way, way under the radar.
Calls were not returned. So our information has not been confirmed or
denied by anybody representing the club.

David Burgin, former editor in chief of the San Francisco
Examiner, said, "All your tycoons are over there." But that's not
true. The
club recently said no to one tycoon -- Scott McNealy, the CEO of Sun
Microsystems. He was named the best CEO golfer in the country by Golf
Digest magazine. Whatever this club is holding out for, it's not
with a great swing.

Neither the club nor McNealy cared to comment. One should note,
though, that McNealy's other sport is hockey, and computer money is
new, not old. And, as you see, he brings the attention of the press

"It's the most difficult club to get into," said Paul Fay Jr.,
member since 1946.

"It's just impossible," said Livermore, who has tried to get
friends in. "They say, 'Forget it!' "

Which means forget using the club's fabled fast course
overlooking the windy Pacific. Designed by the revered A.W.
Tillinghast, it's
ranked among the best in the world.

"The women are allowed to play on certain days at certain
times," Fay said. "I think Thursday is their special day when they
play in
the morning, and then Sunday afternoons they can go out there and have
their social activities and everything they want to run."

Fifteen years ago, this club lost its role as host to PGA golf
events because it had no minority members, either. It has not returned
to hosting public tournaments.

But clubs make sacrifices to keep their membership the way they
like it. Farther south, Cypress Point, which Burgin described as
"stinking rich," withdrew from the AT&T Pebble Beach tournament it
hosted for years. "Rather than admit minorities, they shattered their
tradition. How could you have that tournament without TV pictures of
16th hole at Cypress Point?" Burgin asked. The 16th hole there is 230
yards airborne across an inlet.

The San Francisco Golf Club, tiny and with no public functions,
can be as persnickety as it likes about whom it lets in. And whom it
keeps out.

"They don't take Jewish people, which is outrageous," Livermore
said. Others familiar with the club said this is true. Fay preferred
not to comment on the policy but, when asked if there were any Jewish
members, said, "I don't think they have one right now."

-- -- --

"The Bohemian Grove is woodsy," said Astrid Hoffman of Tiburon,
whose husband belongs to the St. Francis Yacht Club. "They have these
little houses or clubs. They're like Cub Scouts with their dens. They
try to outdo each other in drinks and food, have private concerts and

There are 125 different camps -- Toyland, Dog House, Sons of
Toil, etc. George H.W. Bush will be in Hill Billies, along with
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The bylaws say that at least 100 members must be connected
professionally with literature, art, music or drama. Such "associate"
members pay much less - - but must sing for their supper, in an
worthy of a Medici.

"If you're a theatrical type, you shoot to the top of the
list," Debenham said. "The Bohemian Grove is marvelously eclectic."

Every year at the Grove, a freshly written play with a cast of
hundreds is performed the last Sunday of the retreat. "We know in
advance that the hero will be a king or commander adored by his men,
that he will see his duty and do it," said Healdsburg author van der
of what he calls "these lumbering pageants."

One year, San Francisco novelist Herb Gold said he was offered
an associate membership if he would help write the Grove play. Gold
took fellow writer Earnest Gaines ("A Lesson Before Dying"), an
American, to a Wednesday night entertainment at the six-story downtown
club. Five members, he said, were in blackface. One member clapped
on the back. "Looks like you've played a little football," Gold heard
him say. Shortly thereafter, the writers took their leave. "I guess
not clubbable," Gold said wryly.

Those who are clubbable find themselves strolling past faces
any American would recognize. "Never mind just plain CEOs and
presidents," Hoffman said, "they have president presidents" -- such as
President George H.W. Bush, who has brought his sons.

William F. Buckley was a member until he resigned last year.
He'd play Bach pieces on the harpsichord at dusk on Friday nights (to
campers who'd have preferred the Cal fight song, one member told me).

The arts are a genuine part of the spirit of this club. But a
bit more goes on. In 1971, President Richard Nixon, a member since
was to be the lakeside speaker, but reporters had finally raised a
ruckus about a sitting president giving an off-the-record speech at
Grove. Nixon sent sugary regrets in a telegram that hangs in the city
clubhouse today, saying that anyone could be president of the United
States, but only a few could aspire to be president of the Bohemian

Privately, he said to domestic affairs adviser John Ehrlichman
and Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman (and the hidden tape recorder) in the
Oval Office that May: "The Bohemian Grove, which I attend from time to
time -- it is the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine,
with that San Francisco crowd. I can't shake hands with anybody from

That testy remark could have been pique. He didn't get to
deliver his speech, and, as van der Zee noted, the Grove, its powerful
members pledged to secrecy, provides an ideal audience on which to
test a
major policy address. "Every elected official knows there's no place
conducive to the conduct of political affairs than a gathering that
has been declared nonpolitical," he said.

Many have taken advantage. At,
the Web site of the protest group called the Bohemian Grove Action
Network (their logo depicts a tuxedoed patrician in a top hat swilling
martini as he straddles an MX missile) shows that speakers who have
a Lakeside" include Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of
State Henry Kissinger, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, George
Bush and Michel Rocard, former prime minister of France.

Nelson Rockefeller gave up a run for the presidency after his
speech failed to move his fellow campers. And this is where, according
to van der Zee and many other published sources, Bush asked Cheney to
his running mate in 2000, where Nixon advised Ronald Reagan to stay
out of the coming presidential race in 1967, where Edward Teller and
others in the Manhattan Project mapped out the atomic bomb in the
autumn of

Mary Moore of Occidental, a founder of the Action Network,
which has helped organize demonstrations outside the Grove since 1980,
the speeches

-- sorry, talks -- have been hard to acquire because her source
inside moved on and the club took to locking the texts of the speeches
in the guardhouse. (She did send us the 2002 membership roster.)

The club would like all this secret stuff to stay secret, which
means that the curious are always breaking in (Mother Jones, National
Public Radio, the Los Angeles Times, CBS).

Media CEOs have had to interrupt their conversations to throw
out their own reporters. When Dirk Mathison, San Francisco bureau
for People magazine, sneaked onto the grounds, a Time Warner executive
recognized him and walked him to the gate. The piece never ran.

In fact, whole newspaper empires have been flung out. The club
has an offshoot called the Family that came into being after the
Hearst-owned Examiner ran a 1901 piece in which Ambrose Bierce
predicted the
assassination of President William McKinley. When McKinley was
assassinated soon after, the club threw out its Hearst people and
removed its
newspapers from the clubrooms.

The Family flourishes to this day, letting all kinds of people
in and supporting a hospital in Nicaragua. Its new members are called
Babies, and the president is the Father. "There is no mother," a
said. "The babies are brought by the stork."

Curiously, the Bohemian Club was started by newspapermen much
like the ones now landing in a heap of dust outside the gate. In 1872,
an editorial writer for The Chronicle proposed a club so reporters
meet somewhere other than saloons.

Van der Zee said, "It's not uncommon for founding principles to
become institutional embarrassments, but few social clubs have made
such a turnabout. "

It is called "social" because business is the last thing on
anyone's mind at this club to which hundreds of CEOs and former and
current government officials belong.

"Oh, please," Debenham said. "The contacts are amazing."

Ehrlichman once told a reporter, "Once you've spent three days
with someone in an informal situation, you have a relationship -- a
relationship that opens doors and makes it easier to pick up the

(This is reportedly called the "Mandalay effect," after the
camp where the Bechtels stay, along with Kissinger, Colin Powell and
Francisco's own George Shultz.)

Women don't get to experience the Mandalay effect because they
aren't allowed in, except on certain family weekends, and then they
must be off the grounds by dusk. It's not clear what will happen to
if they're not. Maybe it has never happened.

"Periodically a wife makes noise, and then it dies down,"
Hoffman said.

She believes men need retreats like this. "It's that Masonic
thing, the touching of the ring. Goes back to before the Crusades. The
men feel safer without women. It's the same thing in a way when women
together. First it's jolly and then gets weird. Clannish."

The importance of male bonding aside, it seems wrong to some
for all this political talk to be going on with the press and half the
population absent. Case finds it alarming that no women are at the
especially when the policy discussions concern them. "People I know --
definitely not friends of mine -- say they've discussed the role women
should be playing in the armed forces at the Grove."

What's the law on this? The Supreme Court has held that the
Constitution protects two kinds of associations: private or intimate
associations (fewer than 400 members, such as the SFGC) and expressive
associations formed to put forth a principle or idea. "You have to
look at
how big the club is, how committed to an ideology, and how exclusion
necessary matters to its purposes," Case said. "The Bohemians are
principally Republicans. They discuss politics. They have, as it were,
point of view. That may qualify them as an expressive association."
don't forget this club has artistic leanings. It expresses itself in a
Druid-like opening ceremony called Cremation of Care that features red
pointy hats, torches and Care getting badly singed.

Case has heard about that and has her own theory about why the
club is all male. "The things they do would look too silly if women

The huge athletic Olympic Club, with two golf courses by the
ocean and a more tie-and-suit headquarters downtown, is the oldest and
one of the most famous clubs in the country, and one of the biggest.

Of the three clubs he belongs to, this is George Livermore's
favorite. He lives across the street from the downtown site. "I go
swimming at the Olympic Club and get drunk next door at the Bohemian
he said, merrily.

His grandfather, Horatio P. Livermore, was a founder of the
Olympic Club back in 1860 in a downtown firehouse and added two
18-hole golf courses by the ocean in the 1920s. It has since hosted
U.S. Open championships.

Like many clubs, it was begun by people who couldn't get in
elsewhere --

in this case, Germans, Italians, Irish and Catholics.

"I used to play golf there with a florist and another guy who
sells vegetables and hauls lettuce and celery around the backseat of a
Rolls-Royce," said Burgin, a member since 1969. "It's not a place
for the rich and the swells."

There's a 10-year wait for golf memberships. The lakeside
clubhouse was designed by Arthur Brown, who designed San Francisco's
Hall and the Opera House.

The club has lots of sport teams, bay swims, dinners, power
pacing classes, an annual hike and dip on Ocean Beach, relays around
Merced and crab feasts. "It's the best club in the world," said Stuart
Kinder, president last year. "We have a broad-based membership that
crosses all social and economic lines. You don't have to be a blue
to be a member. You don't have to be wealthy."

Marcus Musante, 25, is glad to have joined as a junior member,
though he got scolded for wearing cargo pants to a golf lesson.
are talkative. It's a social atmosphere. When you're young, just
starting out, there're few things as valuable as talking to an older
professional. It's nice to pick their brains, and at the club they're
to be open and share their pearls."

When Musante told an older member that he was interning at a
district attorney's office, "he recommended for me to go into a
government agency right out of school and try to cure the world of its
until you realize you can't."

Until 1992, women could golf but not go to the downtown club.
That year it was discovered the club had three holes on public
Louise Renne, then city attorney, said, "We told them, 'Stop
discriminating or play with 15 holes.' " Women now are full members.

"These days, athletic clubs would be mad to exclude women --
they're so much more involved in athletics than they ever have been,"
said Ron Fimrite, who's at work on a history of the club. The club is
building new facilities on Sutter Street, largely for the women.

Burgin doesn't go to the Olympic Club much anymore. "When girls
come in, it flat changes," he mourned. "Used to be, you'd go in and
the ballgame's on, tablecloths are plain, no flowers on the tables.
can sit down at anybody's table without formality, yell across the
and talk dirty. So goddamn annoying. Breaks my heart.

"Ferchrissakes, can't a man have a place to go?"


Bohemian Club

Addresses: 624 Taylor St., and Bohemian Grove, 75 miles
northwest of San Francisco near Guerneville

Membership: 2,700 (one member per acre)

Waiting list: 3,000

Average number of years on waiting list: 15 to 20

Members: George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger, Donald
Rumsfeld, George Shultz, Alexander Haig, Colin Powell, rocker Steve
Miller, Clint Eastwood.

Slogan: "Weaving Spiders Come Not Here."

Books to read about it: "The Bohemian Grove" by G. William
Domhoff and "The Greatest Men's Party on Earth" by John van der Zee.

Accept minorities: Yes, especially if they can play an

Best place to spy: Put your canoe in the Russian River at
Northwood, just west of Johnson's Beach in Guerneville, and head
past their floating boathouse. The Bohemians couldn't buy the whole
river. One suspects they are irked by this fact.


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