Last Sunday, the clubhouse was home to another celebration "” the diamond jubilee of its grand opening on Aug. 26, 1932.
Rowing club members past and present headed back to the bay for the champagne reception from 4 p.m. until sundown. Sen. Christine Kehoe, the City of San Diego and the San Diego Historical Society honored ZLAC for its historical significance as the first women's rowing club in the United States and its preservation of the 75-year-old clubhouse.
"We like to have a celebration whenever there's a significant benchmark," said Nancy Perry, ZLAC president. "It allows the members of all ages to come together."
The clubhouse was designed by architect Lilian Rice, who served as ZLAC president from 1915 to 1916.
But the building seems young compared to the club itself, which was founded in 1892 by three sisters, Lena, Agnes and Carolyn Polhamus and their friend, Zulette Lamb. Their first initials form the acronym ZLAC.
The group moved to Mission Bay from San Diego Bay when the big bay became too busy with commercial traffic. The two waterfront lots at the new site had enough space for gardens and landscaping, planned by Georgie Hardy Wright and her friends, horticulturalist Kate Sessions and honorary ZLAC member Sarah Emma Jessop Scripps.
One of the club's oldest active members at 97, Katharine "Kak" Barley, still remembers the old clubhouse, but said she much prefers the new one. Barley joined ZLAC when a friend of her father's recommended it to the 15-year-old.
"It's been a long and enjoyable time, and I wouldn't trade those friends for anything," Barley said. She emphasized that she was no longer rowing, but still competed in ZLAC bridge games.
Sally Lyons, a Pacific Beach resident, joined ZLAC in 1936 as a 14-year-old.
"The new facility was my home away from home," she said.
She chose the clubhouse as the location for her 40th and 50th wedding anniversaries and her 80th birthday party.
Lyons said that one of her biggest thrills was representing ZLAC on a trip to Henley, England.
"Henley is right on the Thames and is famous for rowing, so they invited us to bring memorabilia from the first women's rowing club," said Lyons.
The clubhouse was also home "” around the clock "” to Polly Neal, who was the clubhouse manager for more than 50 years and lived in the upstairs apartment with her husband, Bud. The Neals still work as guest managers on Wednesdays, and the club named a boat in Polly's honor.
"The people were lovely, and we became very good friends with them," Polly said.
Now a Point Loma resident, Neal said she still misses waking up and looking at the water.
Rowing at ZLAC put Kelly Rickon Mitchell on a course for three Olympic teams and a silver medal in the 1984 games. Mitchell, a Point Loma resident, joined ZLAC's junior program when she was 14 years old.
"We had a coach who took us from being mostly a social club to being junior national champions in 1975," she said. Her cousin, Lynn Silliman Reed, was a bronze medalist on the 1976 Olympic team.
"Being around these women made me think I could do it, like what they say about see, believe, achieve," Mitchell said. "It never would have happened without all the women who came before me. It takes a village to get to the Olympics."
Never far from the water, Mitchell is now development director of the San Diego Crew Classic, founded by Patty Wyatt, other ZLAC members and San Diego civic leaders in 1973.
As with many members, Beverly Fritschner, immediate past president, helped make rowing a family affair. Her mother, Alice Buchanan, had been president, and her sister Barbara Scott joined in 1957.
Fritschner came on board in 1961 and said she still jumps in a boat now and then.
"This is an amazing group of women," she said.
She included in that group Mary Louise Glanz, who joined ZLAC in 1927 when she was 15 years old. Glanz will attend the celebration with her two daughters, who were also members.
"I remember when they built the new clubhouse, and there was nothing around it but sand," Glanz said. "I'm just so happy to see how ZLAC has grown."
ZLAC offers rowing classes both for juniors, girls aged 13 to 18 and women aged 18 and up. For more information about ZLAC or renting the clubhouse, visit www.zlac.org.