“We must have a well-informed public opinion. There must be no vitriolic speeches in which personal hatreds are spewed. Opponents must learn to say the nastiest things in the sweetest way.” – The Hon. Earl Warren, February 24, 1949 at Town Hall, then Governor of California and future US Supreme Court Justice
In 1936, a dozen business leaders formed what they called the “no name group.” Their goal was to provide a forum for discussion and investigation of major issues and to be able to share this learning process with their colleagues. They sent out an invitation to 400 of their friends and colleagues to participate in “…a citizen organization for study and exchange of information on matters of general community concern.” They received over 100 responses to the requested $10 membership fee.
The group incorporated Town Hall Los Angeles in 1937. The founding articles state the organization’s mission “…to realize, through study and education, the ideals of democracy, and to aid, through civic education, in the accomplishment of an enlightened and harmonious community. Town Hall shall maintain an impartial position as an open forum for the discussion of public questions, shall diligently develop the relevant facts and report them without bias.”
In the early years, Town Hall programs focused on the wars in Europe and the Pacific, including Pearl Buck lamenting the internment of Japanese-Americans: “We should begin by insisting that American citizens, whatever their color or birthplace, be given their constitutional rights. When we permit our tradition of human rights to be broken, we are in danger of losing our own rights.” In 1944, Town Hall co-produced Destination Tomorrow with CBS Radio, the theme of which was the assimilation of GIs back into society.
In the '50s, prominent speakers from around the world spoke at Town Hall, reflecting the growing fascination with the booming post-war economy of California. Fortune Magazine publisher R.D. Paine said in 1953, “California avoided a post-war slump because its people were pioneering a new way of living – patterns that are spreading to all parts of the country, revolutionizing the American marketplace.”
During the '60s, the country was exploring the new frontier of space while programs increasingly reflected concern with each citizen’s civil rights as the Cold War reached epic heights. The results of these events were both societal and economical creating booms in California industries. As Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown stated in 1965, “There were a million new jobs in California and one-sixth of the nation’s industrial growth during the last decade has taken place in California.”
The women’s movement was reflected in Town Hall when the first female members joined in 1970. Among the earliest were Judge Shirley Hufstedler, who would go on to be the first US Secretary of Education, and women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, both of whom maintain memberships to this day. During the decade, Town Hall expanded its reach by publishing papers and a quarterly Journal. In 1979, we published The Pension Balloon - An Analysis of the Pension Plans of: The City of Los Angeles Fire and Police Departments, Los Angeles City Employees, Los Angeles County Employees and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.This report still stands as the definitive explanation of our current problems with funding our pension obligations.
The '80s were an exciting time for Town Hall as the city hosted its second Olympic Games and car enthusiasts searched for alternatives after the previous decade’s energy crisis. As Dr. Armand Hammer, Chairman and CEO of Occidental Petroleum warned, “The present energy crisis is not a temporary condition. Something must be done, and quickly, and conservation alone is not the only answer. That will cause OPEC to slow production and we will pay more for less oil.” In 1987, the American Heritage Student Program was created in recognition of the critical importance of citizenship to high school and college students.
In the '90s, more diverse venues and times were offered, reflecting the business community’s shifting schedules. Today, Town Hall has morning, lunch, evening and weekend events; free meetings, low-cost events, and large, higher-cost business lunches. Our programs can be heard in their entirety on public radio stations around the nation and are available in transcript form by contacting our offices. .
Technology has changed; participant choices in venue and time of day have changed; but the quality of our speakers and the prominence of our podium remain constant. At Town Hall Los Angeles, the more things change, the more they stay the same.