Club helps seniors build social bridges

By Pat Sherman – Contact Reporter, La Jolla Light

On a given afternoon, La Jolla Cove Bridge Club players may not be dealt a lucky hand, but they know fortune is smiling on them as they gaze out the window and see a school of dolphins swim by.

“You could not find a better place to play bridge than sitting on a cliff overlooking the ocean for an afternoon,” said Scott Farr, a former bridge club board president who runs the games.

The iconic 1939 building where the club meets, adjacent to La Jolla Cove in Ellen Browning Scripps Park, was constructed as part of the New Deal’s Works Project Administration.

Through the years, shuffleboard fell out of favor, and in the mid-1990s, the cracked concrete playing surface was replaced by grass and the grounds adorned with flowers, plants and other decorative landscaping.

Today, the club hosts bridge games Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from noon to 3:30 p.m. Membership is just $25 per year; games are $2 a day  for members and $3 for non-members. Coffee is provided and players bring a sandwich or lunch.

“It’s like a second home for senior citizens,” said incoming bridge club board president, Herb Marcus. “The only difficult part is the parking,” he added, noting that most players either walk to the club or get dropped off.

Former board member Carmel Repp-Pearl said the ocean view is the big draw for visitors. Members have witnessed amazing sunsets, whales spouting off the coast and waves crashing during storms. The club holds three or four parties per year, which inevitably spill out onto the lawn.

“It’s a nice facility,” Repp-Pearl said. “Most of the members are senior citizens, but we have some young players and they’re quite good. We have people who come from Arizona that play for the summer or from the Midwest.”

Marcus’s wife, Elaine, who serves as membership chair, said people have stopped in from as far away as Europe and Asia.

“They all say how lucky we are to have a place like this to play bridge,” she said.

Farr said Bridge is challenging and keeps seniors mentally alert.

“As you get older it’s important to not only challenge the body, but the brain as well,” he said, noting some of the enduring friendships that have been forged at the club.

The building also is used for yoga and aerobics classes, as well as recovery meetings at a rate of $25 per hour. Lifeguards meet there periodically.

However, the lion’s share of the money used to pay for operations and expenses comes from renting the facility out for weddings and private parties. The rate is $1,800 to $2,500 all day Saturday (depending on the time of year) and about half that amount Sunday evenings after 4 p.m.

Adjacent to the main hall where bingo is played is a smaller room with a hardwood floor that can be used for dancing.

“It has a couple of bathrooms and a full kitchen so catering can be done onsite,” Repp-Pearl said. “It’s a full-on community facility.”

Each year the club donates to various charities from the money it raises. “Last year we gave about $2,000 to different charities,” Marcus said.

When somebody passes away in the club, the membership will give the family a condolence basket and make a donation to the deceased’s favorite charity.

Though the city owns the building, the club is in charge of maintenance and upkeep, including landscaping, painting, and flooring. The club also pays the telephone bill and building insurance.

“That’s the deal,” Marcus said. “We always need something new.”

In 2006, a volunteer group hired a landscape architect to draw up plans to improve the park, with the goal of creating a master plan. One of his ideas was to relocate the bridge club closer to Coast Walk, an idea that was rejected by a large and vocal segment of the community.

“Any reasonable person would not have considered that to be an option,” Farr said.

Though the club remains, membership has dwindled somewhat, from about 140 to between 100 and 120 members — something Herb Marcus said he would like to change during his tenure as board president.

“It’s a safe haven for senior citizens (to gather), instead of sitting home and vegetating and feeling sorry for themselves,” his wife Elaine said. “It’s a meld of different professional people and non-professional people who have so much in common to look forward to each week.”

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