By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
There are little remnants of the civic organization inside the crumbling, peach colored building. The walls are covered with graffiti. The wooden floors are littered with glass shards from smashed windows. The east side was scorched by a fire.
Clovis Director of Public Safety Pete Wilt condemned the abandoned structure in November. “It’s dangerous. It’s a wide open space, a place for vagrants and gangs,” Wilt said.
But the crumbling building was once a vibrant meeting place for the Clovis Woman’s Club. Now, it is the property of Clovis Municipal Schools. School board members donated it to the club for $1 in the spring of 1941. In accordance with the deed, once the club ceased to use it, the building reverted back into the hands of the school district.
In less than a week, the city is to raze it and its pieces are to be disposed of by the school district.
Before that happens, CMS Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm wants to pay homage to its former occupants.
“There are lots of reasons why the building can’t be used. But I know it probably has a history,” said Seidenwurm, who wants to commemorate the women of the club in some way, perhaps with a plaque.
But most of them have already passed away, and only some of their daughters and sons remain.
Clovis resident Charlotte Camerer, 72, said goodbye to a member of the Clovis Woman’s Club some time ago — her mother, Mabel Kelley served as the president of the club in 1946, Camerer said.
“There wasn’t a whole lot to do in Clovis back then. It was before TV and that sort of thing… The majority of the women (in the club) didn’t work outside the home… They were the wives of the men who worked in town,” said Camerer, a junior high school student when her mother joined the group.
Sixty years ago, the building was in “the booneys,” Camerer said, on the edge of an unpaved road.
“It was a lovely building. When I used to go down that street, I couldn’t believe how it had decayed in the last 20 years,” said Camerer, who remembers when the building was used to for wedding receptions and formal dances.
The women of the club, she said, met under strict fashion rules and were required to wear hats and gloves to their meetings, which often revolved around tea time.
But they also dabbled in philanthropy.
They sent Christmas packages to local hospitals, they bought books for students unable to afford them, and they supported a range of other charities through cake walks and hamburger sales at the county fair, according to local historian Don McAlavy.
McAlavy determined the club was founded in 1909 and expired around 1989.
As its members passed away and the town grew and changed, the club branched off into smaller and smaller niche organizations, such as the gardening club, Camerer said.
And the building was abandoned.
“It hurts to see that it’s gone down and hasn’t been taken care of,” said Dorothy Orman, also the daughter of a former club member.
“(The woman’s club) was one of the most important organizations in town,” Orman said.