The Rotary Club of Newport-Balboa (RCNB) was founded in 1939. In those days, there were 200,000 Rotary members worldwide and less than 5,000 clubs in Rotary International. Today there are over 1.2 million members and over 31,000 clubs. Orange County’s polulation in 1939 was only about 150,000. Today we live in a thriving community of over three million.
In 1930, the population of Newport Beach, Corona del Mar and Irvine was about 7,000. Costa Mesa was bean fields and Irvine was cow pasture. Balboa Island was 75% vacant lots, Corona del Mar was 80% vacant lots, but the Balboa Peninsula was built up due to the Red Cars coming in with the Los Angeles and Pasadena families to their second (beach) homes. Balboa’s role as the center of Newport Beach life at that time is why our club is called Newport-Balboa, rather than simply Newport Beach.
In those days, the Rotary Club of Newport-Balboa territory was basically a resort atmosphere and most of the families who had homes here earned their living elsewhere. In the winter, the streets were put to bed by 9:00 PM, but from Easter vacation to the end of September the area was alive with a population increase of 300%. In our district, our early custom and culture was shaped by individual business ownership and closeness of friendships with one another.
This knowledge of the era sets the scene for the beginning of the Newport-Balboa Rotary Club. There was a Lions Club and an Exchange Club in the area. Bob Allen was a city councilman in 1939 and he knew everyone in the area, plus his father was a Rotarian in Pittsburgh, PA and he had visited his father’s Rotary club many times. Bob knew there was an interest in the community for another type of service club. Bob (the first President of RCNB) and Marion Dodd (the first Secretary) visited 23 local businessmen in a three-week period to set up the requirement of charter membership (no one they approached turned them down). All of the original charter members had small businesses, such as shops and stores.
In 1939 the Rotary District for this area was number 108, which consisted of four counties: Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and part of San Diego. Earl Stanley, a charter member of the Club and a real estate broker, knew Mac Robbins of the Santa Ana Rotary Club (the first service club in Orange County, chartered in 1920) and Mac knew Karl Glasbreuner (Orange Rotary Club, chartered in 1921), both of whom held the classification of Insurance. Mac Robbins was certainly the right person to know and ask to help form the RCNB; he was a Past President of the Rotary Club of Chicago (the first Rotary Club, founded in 1905) and the first President of the Rotary Club of Santa Ana. The Santa Ana club granted the territory and the Orange club sponsored the Rotary Club of Newport-Balboa.
The first meeting was held in May of 1939 at Park Café on Balboa Island on a Tuesday night (it was later changed to Wednesday night). The café was known in those days as the White Café. Meetings were held there from 1939 to 1946. The meetings were held at night because members could not get away from their closely held family stores and shops during the day and the during the heavy summer vacation business cycle.
It is understood that the members enjoyed getting to the White Café for the 4:30 to 6:30 “early meeting” at the bar. Art White (charter member) owned the bar and café. It was the only eating place on the Island and the members were able to discuss business and other problems at this early social and fellowship hour. This weekly event also made for a great make-up for other Rotary Clubs.
In those early days, nothing was planned for the meetings other than the speaker. The club was known as a “good-time” club (drinks were 35 cents and dinner was $1.50).
The Charter Night was held on September 19, 1939 at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club. Over 300 attended the function from all over District 108. The toastmaster was Karl Glasbreuner from the sponsoring club of Orange, and the speaker was Mac Robbins from the Santa Ana club.
The Rotary Club of Newport-Balboa has spawned five other Rotary clubs, with three of them still active today: Newport-Irvine (1967), Newport Beach Sunrise (1981) and Costa Mesa (2005).
Until 1989 the Constitution and By-laws of Rotary International stated that Rotary club membership was for males only. Women were invited to join Rotary that year. No surprise, there were some members of RCNB who were enthusiastic and others who were not. In any event, the Club elected its first female president, Nan Raney of Balboa Island, less than 10 years later for Rotary year 1997-98.
Membership hit a high of over 120 in the 1980s time period (before some of the daytime clubs were spun off). Today there are nearly 70 men and women members in the Club, with an average increase lately of about 10 percent per year. The club members gather weekly Wednesday evenings at the Bahia Corinthia Yacht Club in Corona del Mar.