By Ken Monzingo
To understand the history of the Western Conference take a walk down memory lane when bridge was so very exciting. Reliving the glory days - the late 40s, 50s & 60s - with the most famous regional in the country was Bridge Week, Los Angeles, brings smiles to anyone who ever played the event at the Ambassador Hotel. Or to those when they played it in downtown Los Angeles on the first weekend (welcomed by the mayor of LA) and then took the train to San Francisco (playing team games en route), to be met by the mayor of SF and finishing the week at the fabled Fairmont Hotel. What an era! This overflow tournament that drew 10,000 tables in a ten day period was easily the event of the year - certainly in the west and probably in the country! The finest the game had to offer not only played there, but Southern California became a living mecca of talent as many players migrated to the Culver City, California area - an area known for Hollywood studios and now amazing bridge players. Barry Crane, Hermine Baron, Mary Jane Farrell, Richard Walsh, Meyer Schleifer, Morris Portugal, Paul Soloway, and Lew Mathe come to mind. A few great ones are still there - Mike Shuman, John Swanson, Richard Henderson, Gerald Bare, and Harold Guiver come to mind, but most have left or gone on to bridge heaven. Las Vegas appears to be today’s upcoming city-of-choice for the elite.
For us who've been around a long time, those are the days we remember vividly. But the Conference had it's beginnings even long before that. It just didn't know what to name itself. Somewhere around the thirties players began to organize the western game into geographic areas to locate their bridge tournaments. I wish someone could step up and tell us how that group got together, what events they played, who directed, what were the prizes, and where they were held. I have no records, just heresay and barroom talk from some of the long-in-the-tooth old-timers. As this gets published, hopefully others will step forward with some good facts and news from the golden days and I’ll keep this page a “work in progress” for as long as it takes.
I believe that in the fledgling days the organization called itself the Western Division, Western Bridge Federation, Pacific Bridge League, and several other handles before settling in on Western Conference (once Western Bridge Conference). In those days, that predate even the American Contract Bridge League, the entire west was sorta included; then the ACBL was established and divided the country into 25 districts. The conference became a conglomerate of Districts 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23. The organization was still the governing body for tournaments and some of the early leaders would literally dictate when and where each district held their tournaments. A far cry from today’s conference which is totally devoted to cooperation between the district's two delegates each working together for the general cause.
The first president (of the Western Division) was Winslow Randall. Not sure who followed him, but we've had forty different presidents in the past fifty years. Bonnie Bagley, Colorado Springs, Colo., is the current WC president.
Like I said above, most of this is verbal barnstorming with the old-timer I’m depending on Bob Wingeard, Tom Quinlan and few others to help fill in the white space. I really miss being able to talk to the classy old members of the past. To Larry Jolma, Leslie Tsou, District 20, Herb Smith, District 21, George Clemens, District 22, Chris Wilson, District 17, Percy Bean. Kelsey Petterson, Syd Levey, Max Hardy and Al Gilpin. But as the historical information sifts in, I’ll be updating this story.
What a wonderful place to be! Can't wait to learn more about the Conference and share it.