By Fran Foresta
I would be remiss in telling the story of Dana Harbor Bridge without reviewing when bridge was started in our area, as told by Harriet Workinger in Bridge News 1995. Unit 538 was organized by 19 duplicate bridge players on February 26, 1958 at Casa Romantica in San Clemente. In 1962 there were five clubs in the area: Anaheim, Balboa, Laguna Beach, Santa Ana and San Clemente. The Orange County Association of Bridge Units (OCABU) was formed and boundaries for the units were established. Two sectionals were staged annually, with responsibility rotated among the five clubs. Early sectionals were held at Disneyland with really good attendance. Our membership was now 62 and growing and by 1970 we had 80 members. The biggest undertaking of OCABU was to host a “National” in Anaheim in 1987. It was a big success. OCABU was disbanded thereafter.
I moved to Laguna Niguel in 1988 and was very fortunate, on my first visit to the Monday game, to be befriended by Harriet Workinger, a past President of the Unit and now pretty much heralded as the matriarch of our club. Harriet was a strong supporter of duplicate bridge and also in charge of providing the snacks for the games, along with Virginia Johnson. Harriet was a strong advocate of snacks, feeling that food created a more social atmosphere and friendlier game. She prepared snacks for our games for more than 20 years! Her philosophy still lives on.
Harriet always sat North-South at the same table and told me to come and sit near her and kibitz. She said she would introduce me to the East-West pairs as they came to the table and would find me a partner. Within three or four rounds Harriet introduced me to Ardelle Wolf, who said she needed a partner for Wednesday. That was the beginning of my life with bridge in Unit 538.
At that time games were played at various facilities. The Monday and Wednesday games were played at the Dana Harbor Youth & Group Facility. On Tuesday, we played at the Dana Point Community Center. Rod Peller directed these three games On Friday, we played at the San Clemente Community Center with Anne Bemis directing. The Unit game was always held at the San Clemente Community Center, with John Adams directing.
Following Rod Peller’s untimely death in 1994, the Unit ran the games until Rod’s dad came from the Midwest to take care of matters. He was trying to find a buyer for the games, equipment and supplies. I was the Unit Board’s Treasurer at the time and we were keeping the net proceeds from the games aside for him. I then suggested to the Board that the Unit purchase the equipment and supplies and run the games ourselves. Rod’s dad was grateful we had maintained the games. When we offered to be the one to buy them, he was all in favor. We agreed on a value for the equipment and an amount for “good will”. He allotted half of what we had set aside as a down payment and gave us a generous time to make payments on the balance. We did it! A member-owned bridge club!
In 1989 Unit 538, with 158 members, merged with Unit 525 for a total of 700 members. Since we now owned and ran the games the Units had to separate. We were again Unit 538, with about 250 members. The fact we were now “earning” money necessitated applying for and becoming a tax exempt, non-profit social organization (501(c) 7) under IRS guidelines.
It wasn’t long before we started new games in various locations and had games Monday thru Friday plus our Unit game. The Monday and Wednesday games were directed by George Winter at the Youth & Group Facility. Tuesday was now at the Dana Hills Tennis Center with Bill Hill and later with Mary Scott, Thursday at Sea Country with Tony Anton, and Friday in San Clemente with Anne Bemis.
In 1996 I became the Unit Board President. Our annual table count with the original games was about 1,800. With the added games, the count was increasing steadily and approached 3,000. The effort of setting up and taking down tables every day, taking the boards, supplies, coffee pots, etc. home, was overwhelming. This started me thinking that we should consider a single permanent location. So off I went to find a place. That wasn’t easy! There were some places we could rent at the right price, but most had very little parking or were not desirable locations.
One day in 1998, Don Ellis, experienced in real estate, suggested looking at the center where we are now. I spoke to the management company and they were very interested in having us as tenants due to the nature and long history of our organization. We looked and looked at various suites that were or soon would be available, but none were suitable for our type of activity. The parking at the center, however, was ideal.
After quite a bit of time waiting to see what else might be available, the manager told me that the restaurant upstairs in the center building (our original location) was going out of business. Wow!! I can’t tell you how many times, as the manager took me around looking, that I said to myself as I passed the restaurant, “That spot would be perfect . . . an ocean view, a balcony for casual seating and decorative plants . . . beautiful”. Lo and behold we had our new home!! We negotiated a 10-year lease (I should have tried for a 99-year term) which was economically compatible with our then current income of $5 card fees and 3,000 tables annually.
Now began the huge chore of designing the space and planning the day-to-day needs after the games began. November 9, 1998 was opening day! There were countless volunteers that made it all possible. My wife Linda and her buddy, Carol Newhouse, not only provided us with gourmet snacks every day, but also had monthly theme parties complete with a full lunch. Banners and certificates celebrating achievements of all our members covered the bulletin boards. Bill Hill gave countless hours as our Unit Manager. Loli Henderson and Fausta Vitali contributed much time to partnerships. Classes were being taught at all levels with teachers George Winter, Linda Goldan and I. Sally Pelmear started her EasyBridge classes which contributed significantly to the growth of new members. Susan Benon, Ann Cressman, and Hal Binder began classes later. When the renowned ACBL teacher and author Audrey Grant visited us soon after we opened, she complimented us on having such a wonderful place to play bridge. We were officially a “going” bridge center!
Unit 538 now has over 500 members, our annual table count has increased to over 8,000 and our Unit was ranked 17th in the ACBL in 2012. Many volunteers have contributed to our continuing success. Many have served on the governing board. We now have pre-dealt hands with hand records, Bridgemates, a large results viewing screen, a formidable website and an update results format thanks to Peter Redwood, our computer guru.
Could it get any better?