Founded in 1922, the Rotary Club of San Pedro held its first meetings at the long-demolished Robal Inn, a workingman’s hotel on Harbor Boulevard that catered to shipyard workers as well as unmarried schoolteachers. Mortician C. H. Cleveland served as the club’s first president and presided over its meetings.
San Pedro enjoys the notoriety of being the first club in all of Rotary to be organized in a territory controlled by another club — in this case, the Los Angeles Club, known as LA5 because it was the fifth club established.
San Pedro Rotarians argued that traveling more than 20 miles to a meeting downtown was too cumbersome. The drive today is no easy feat, but imagine the effort of driving on rough roads (no freeways then) in a Model T.
Donning “San Pedro” armbands, 23 members of the San Pedro club attended the district conference in San Francisco in 1923, which led Rotary to change its bylaws, allowing the club to be chartered.
Within four years, the club boasted 57 members and met at noon every Friday.
The goal of Rotary is to build better friendships among people from an array of professions. In those early days, members listed their professions as ice dealer, oil man, railroad freight agent, billiards, wholesale gravel, mining engineer, and dairying.
By 1956, the club had grown to 80 members and was meeting at the old YMCA on Beacon Street.
In the 1960s, the San Pedro Rotary moved to a newly built motor inn on Western Avenue named the Hacienda, designed by the renowned modernist architect, Richard Neutra. (Unfortunately, it no longer exists.)
At its peak, the San Pedro club grew to 120 members, with many of the older classifications being replaced by new ones, including urologist, car wash owner, pawn shop, and clergy, such as Methodist, Presbyterian, and Jewish.
The list of Rotary’s past presidents is a who’s who of San Pedro’s prominent families, including names like Rados, DiRocco, and Wall, among others, representing the fishing industry, engineering, banking, shipyards, and plumbing.
In 1999, the club honored John M. Olguin as Citizen of the 20th Century. Olguin was a beloved community pioneer who played a leading role in everything from whale watching to the community’s fireworks display to the annual turkey donations to the poor — all while serving as programs director at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.
The Rotary Club of San Pedro has changed its meeting time and day as well as its location many times over the years, including the Elks Club, the DoubleTree and Crowne Plaza hotels, Ports O’ Call Restaurant, Think Café, Raffaello’s, and now, the Grand Annex event space.
Many things have remained constant over the years, including the Object of Rotary, which is to build better friendships through service; hold high ethical standards in business and recognize the worthiness of all occupations; apply the ideal of service in personal, business, and community life; and advance international understanding, goodwill, and peace.
Rotarians challenge themselves to live by “The Four-Way Test” of “the things we think, say or do: Is it truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
Long before karaoke, Rotarians were known for singing. At times, songbooks were distributed, and three or four songs were sung at each meeting. For now, the songbooks have been pushed aside, but Rotarians still welcome visitors with this song:
We bid you a welcome, amigo
To our club in San Pedro
Where Rotary meets every Thursday
In the house by harbor and bay
We’re happy you’re with us today
And when you go from San Pedro
To your hometown next meeting
We hope you’ll remember our greeting
To the Rotary club down your way
We’re happy you’re with us today!