Pacific Beach Woman’s Club’s meeting hall sold for $1.4 million

Pacific Beach Woman's Club
(Courtesy of Mary Lou Benzel)

Over the last century, the one-story beach cottage on Hornblend Street in Pacific Beach has seen its share of history, from rallies for women’s suffrage in the 1920s to welcoming soldiers and sailors during World War II.

During World War II, the Pacific Beach Woman's Club welcomed sailors and soldiers.
(Courtesy Mary Lou Benzel )

In more recent years, Hornblend Hall, home to the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club, has been used for the group’s annual fundraisers, including wine tastings in the spring and a casino night in the fall.

But, faced with mounting maintenance costs for the 110-year-old building and dwindling finances exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the group has sold the property to investor Ramin Karimi for $1.4 million.

“It was hard to put it up for sale, but we’ve had to do it for quite a while,” said Mary Lou Benzel, club president and a member since 2000. “We don’t make a lot of money and it’s an old building. We can’t raise as much as we needed to fix everything that needed to be fixed.”

The decision to sell the building, which was constructed in 1911 by four men who were husbands of women who were in what was then the Pacific Beach Reading Club, was traumatic for many members, Benzel said.

Even after the discussions and votes, some women still think it was the wrong thing to do, she said, adding that the 65-member group has lost some members over it.

Karimi, a Realtor with Windermere Homes in Del Mar, said he bought the 3,528-square-foot property with the intent of preserving its history.

The stage at the Pacific Beach Woman's Club meeting hall being used for an installation of officers in the 1950s.
The stage at the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club meeting hall was often used for musicals and choral performances in the club’s early days. Here it is used for an installation of officers in the 1950s.
(Courtesy Mary Lou Benzel)

“Anything with history is interesting to me,” said Karimi, whose father was a high school history teacher in Iran. “I’m coming from a country with 5,000 years of history behind it. I have told people that any building newer than 1,500 years old we consider new construction.”

His original idea was to make it into a historical bed and breakfast, but he now says he is looking more at transforming it into an events venue.

The property, which includes three lots — two for the clubhouse and one for parking — has never been used for residential purposes. It has two restrooms, a small kitchen, a large salon and a stage.

Karimi did say he hopes to build two two-story residential units on the parking lot parcel.

When the Woman’s Club put the Hornblend property on the market, they listed it at $1.5 million. But they agreed to the $1.4 million price for Karimi, who told group members they could continue to hold three events per year on the property and use the parking lot for mobile showers for the homeless — for two years, Benzel said.

The club, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in March, was established to connect women living in the beach neighborhood who shared a mission of helping the community and contributing to philanthropic causes. Club members range in age from the mid-30s to early 90s.

A view of the Pacific Beach woman's clubhouse in the 1930s.
A view of the Pacific Beach woman’s clubhouse in the 1930s.
(Courtesy Mary Lou Benzel )

In recent years, members have donated time and money to beneficiaries including StandUp for Kids, Toys for Tots and various programs at area schools.

When the club formed as the Pacific Beach Woman’s Reading Club, it was largely for cultural enrichment, Benzel said. The stage was typically used for choral groups and music. As the group’s focus changed over the years, the stage became more of a place for storage, she said.

Benzel said the $1.4 million has been invested and the group plans to use the interest for its activities, including the fundraisers and scholarships that support its causes. The group also has been told it can use the VFW hall in Pacific Beach for its meetings.

“What I really want to assure the people in Pacific Beach is that the club is still here,” Benzel said. “We’ll still be looking for people to join. The only thing we don’t have any more is our own building.”