About ZLAC and its History

In 1892 when San Diego was a sleepy little town and women’s rowing was unheard of, four adventurous young women – sisters Lena, Agnes, and Caroline Polhamus and their best friend, Zulette Lamb – borrowed a boat and, using the initials of their first names to form the acronym ZLAC, organized ZLAC Rowing Club, Ltd. The club they founded is now the oldest women’s rowing club in the United States.

The founders defined the purposes of the club, which still remain our purposes today: to promote rowing and other athletic activities, both aquatic and otherwise, among its members; to promote social activities among its members; and to provide and maintain a clubhouse and other facilities for the conduct of such activities.

In the early days, ZLAC members rowed in two large wooden barges from a boathouse at the foot of Broadway in San Diego. With increased shipping and boat travel on San Diego Bay, it became necessary to look for another location for the boathouse. In 1929, the club purchased two parcels of land on the northern shore of Mission Bay in Pacific Beach. ZLAC member and prominent architect Lilian Rice was commissioned to draw plans for the clubhouse and dock built in 1932. The landscaping was designed by renowned horticulturist Kate Sessions, known as the “Mother of Balboa Park.”

Eventually the club acquired smaller rowing boats in addition to the barges. Primarily to serve the interests of the junior rowers, the club started acquiring racing shells in 1962. Needing a place to house the shells, the club built a boathouse and pier in 1962. Under the leadership and coaching of Patty Wyatt, a competitive crew was organized in 1964, in addition to the existing recreational rowing.

ZLAC Rowing Club logoAs competitive rowing has grown worldwide, so have the rowing programs at ZLAC, with its junior and master women rowers competing in regional, national, and international regattas. U.S. National Team members, top college rowers, and three Olympic rowers have developed from the ZLAC juniors competitive rowing program. ZLAC member Patty Wyatt was instrumental in founding the San Diego Crew Classic regatta, and was responsible for the racing venue at Lake Casitas in the 1984 Olympics.

ZLAC master rowers have competed and won titles in national and international masters regattas. In 2000, ZLAC built a beautiful, modern 2-story boathouse to store more than 20 rowing shells with a workout room for ergometers and weight equipment.

A dynamic presence in the rowing community, ZLAC continues its tradition as a premier rowing and social club in San Diego and plays a significant role in supporting and promoting women’s rowing.

ZLAC Rowing Club, Ltd. is organized as a 501(c)(7) non-profit organization. The club supports the efforts of the ZLAC Foundation, a separate 501(c)(3) organization, to provide opportunities for girls and women to learn to row, to promote national and international amateur rowing and competition, and to provide education on the history of rowing.