Asilomar is Born
At the end of the 19th century, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) played an active role in providing shelter for the young women who were coming to the nation's big cities in search of low-paying jobs in factories and offices. The YWCA housing included educational and vocational classroom facilities, where these young women could take classes in practical subjects such as money management, sewing, cooking, and typing. The YWCA staff, students, and supporters met periodically to discuss women's issues of that time – and to find solutions, such as breaking into career fields dominated by men. These meetings eventually led to the formation of the YWCA Regional Leadership Conferences, and the western region was called the Pacific Coast Field Committee.
The Asilomar concept was first born in 1897, when the YWCA held its first western regional conference at Mills College near Oakland, California. Later, between 1900 and 1911, the Pacific Coast Field Committee conferred each year at the old Hotel Capitola near the beach at Santa Cruz. The committee was then composed of some of the most influential and prestigious women in California: Phoebe Apperson Hearst (mother of pioneer publisher, William Randolph Hearst), Ellen Browning Scripps (a successful publisher), Mrs. Warren Olney and Mary Sroufe Merrill (who authored a history of Asilomar and its founding).
In 1912, the Hotel Capitola was destroyed by fire, and that summer Hearst opened her estate, Hacienda del Pozo Verona, near Livermore, for the YWCA's leadership conference. The conference was held in a miniature tent city furnished with iron beds, mattresses, blankets, electricity and running water for over 300 attendees. The red and white canvas tents and equipment that Hearst provided were later to become the original furnishings of Asilomar. It was at this conference that Hearst embraced the YWCA's idea to build a western conference grounds.
The Pacific Improvement Company, whose Monterey area assets became the basis for what is now known as the Pebble Beach Company, donated thirty acres "facing the Pacific Ocean" on the Monterey Peninsula to the YWCA. The deed stipulated that the YWCA would pay the property taxes and that $30,000 of improvements were to be made on the property over the next ten years. The National Board accepted the offer, and the western conference grounds became a reality. That same year, the YWCA hired Julia Morgan, a San Francisco architect, and work began immediately. With funds donated by YWCA members and supporters, the Administration Building (Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall), the Engineer's Cottage, the tent houses and the large granite entrance gates were built.
In July 1913, those were the only structures when 300 young women attended Asilomar's first YWCA student leadership conference. Meals were served in a central dining tent. While these facilities would be considered spartan today, they did offer electricity, running water, and bathing facilities. The facility at Capitola had been known as "Guardamar," and in 1913, the YWCA held a contest to name their new property on the Monterey Peninsula. They received hundreds of entries. The winning name came from a Stanford University student, Helen Salisbury, who made up the word Asilomar, derived from the Spanish words "asilo" meaning retreat or refuge, and "mar," meaning sea, hence "refuge-by-the-sea."
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