Late in the last century a few San Francisco newspapermen with a love of poetry and good liquor founded the Bohemian Club to swim and shoot and run around naked and live with their buddies in old cabins. A lot of that still goes on, but the need to raise money has brought a new and vastly more powerful clientele into the club. Over the years they have raised summer camp to new levels.

In 1928, for instance, Herbert Hoover was beseiged in his tent at "Cave Man" (the cabin group that now includes Richard Nixon) and asked by hundreds of fellow campers to run for president. In the early 1940s a few fellows pushing twigs around the campfire here decided to build an atom bomb, they say. Right here in 1979 Alexander M. Haig Jr. launched his bid for the presidency.

With the current U.S. president (he's a member of "Owl's Nest"), the vice president and two former presidents all club members, this has been a rugged summer for the Bohemian Club. Reporters tried to get in. (Two burly security men in T-shirts escorted me back to my car.) Protesters demonstrated outside the gate. But activities during the two-week 1981 "encampment," as they call it, continued undisturbed deep in the woods on their 2,700-acre tract.

According to the summer camp program kindly provided by Bohemian Club critics with friends on the staff inside, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger spoke July 17 on "Rearming America." As is customary, no word of his remarks reached the outside. The same held for television producer Don Ingalls' talk on the inside story of his show, "Fantasy Island," Caltech president Marvin L. Goldberger's speech on "Space Wars: Fact vs. Fancy," astronauts Frank Crippen and John M. Young on the space shuttle and Arthur Hailey on "Joys and Anguish of the Author."

The various cabin groups into which the members are divided show an interesting clash of cultures. Consider the membership of "Mandalay," the group with the best quarters, and, the staff says, the most servants:

San Francisco business executives S. D. Bethtel Sr. and Jr., Hillsborough businessman and Shirley Temple husband Charles A. Black, tire magnate Leonard Firestone, former Nixon aide Peter M. Flanigan, former president Gerald R. Ford, former Pan Am chief Najeeb Halaby, metals tycoons Edgar F. Kaiser Sr. and Jr., former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger, former CIA director John A. McCone, former diplomat Herman Phleger and his son Atherton, former labor and treasury secretary George P. Shultz and Attorney General William French Smith, among others.

Despite a number of rumors to the contrary, Neither President Reagan nor Vice President Bush made it to camp this year, which is too bad. Members make a real effort to put everyone at ease. Autographs are banned and photographs discouraged.

Many senior campers, including former diplomat George W. Ball, dressed up in red-hooded robes and torched a coffin symbolizing "Dull Care" while a member orchestra played funeral dirges, the program said. It took them five tries to light the thing, after pouring kerosene all over it, but it was a spectacular sight.

Some spoilsports at the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing tried to force the club to hire female waitresses. But the members defended their feminist consciousness. After all, they do dress up in drag for the "Low Jinks" and "High Jinks" shows at the camp.

A small group of local people, many of them opponents of nuclear power and supporters of women's rights, also set up a "vigil" outside the camp gates this summer. Mary Moore, 46, an owner of the consignment shop in nearby Occidental, said that the group wished to remind people "that the good old boy network is perpetuated this way." Their coalition of local citizens groups charge that Bohemian Grove is a place "where these men, in anonymity and without public scrutiny, make policy decisions and sustain contacts that often have catastrophic effects on our daily lives and, indeed, on the life of our planet."

The parking lot, which I caught a glimpse of, is impressive, a vast expanse of metal under the trees. A poem in the club newspaper says: Can't find your BMW? You shouldn't let it trouble you Don't worry where your auto is Forget about it -- Drive home his.

Large and expensive automobiles passed by the little vigil group, with their anti-nuclear banners pinned up by the roadside. Some in the cars yelled, "Get a job!" at the vigil members as they rolled past.

Two, however, physicist Athelstan Spilhaus and pantyhose magnate R. Philip Hanes stopped to chat. Spilhaus assured the vigil members that nuclear waste was no problem. We will soon be rocketing the stuff into the sun, he said.

Laurie Moore, 26, a viola player for the Santa Rosa symphony, said she declined an offer to some free pantyhose. "I don't wear them," she told Hanes. She also deflected protests from one visitor that he could not be blamed for the ecological damage the group blames on the club's power elite. "He was trying to tell me he was all right because he has a membership in the Sierra Club," Moore said.