Old New York and a Private Club

New York might be one of the few American cities where one can still find vestiges of old class divisions and social strata. Metropolis of diverse millions that we are, echoes of the bygone “high society” still reverberate in places like the National Arts Club. Located at 15 Gramercy Park South, the National Arts Club was founded in 1898 with a commitment to the arts, architecture, and civic affairs. Yes the club is private, as is Gramercy Park itself (Gated and closed to the “riffraff” public, only the privileged residents of Gramercy are blessed with the key that unlocks the park’s hallowed gates. I’ll take egalitarian Central Park anyday).

So how would a commoner like an artist’s model crash such an exclusive private institution and find herself among New York’s social and cultural glitterati? By posing for their Monday night sketch group, that’s how! HAHAHAHAHA!!!!! :stuffs face with hors d’oeuvres, boozes at the bar, steals silverware, and keeps head down: 😆

The truth is that the National Arts Club is a lovely historic place – a landmark Gothic Revival brownstone that was once the residence of New York governor Samuel J. Tilden. In 1876, Tilden ran for President but lost to Rutherford B. Hayes in spite of having won the popular vote. Inside the building, you can really feel the ghosts of past lives, the flavor of “old New York”, and envision top-hatted gentlemen and corset-wearing ladies gliding down the staircases. It’s a trippy, time-travel experience.

Mark Milroy runs the Monday night sketch, and I pose for it regularly. I worked just last night, and when I entered the building I was greeted by the Club’s spectacular annual Christmas decorations. Snooty place or not, I have to admit they do it up right! Lights everywhere, a magnificent tree in the main room, poinsettias tucked in every corner, ornaments dangling, and every festive trimming you can think of. Almost makes you forget the uppity attitude of the place.

On my break I wanted to take a few pictures, but as usual at that Club, some black tie affair was going on down on the first floor (Seems to be an event every night at that place). Unfortunately, the first floor is where all the best decorations are. A scantily clad art model with tousled hair, lurking around with a camera, wouldn’t exactly be welcome among the hoity-toity crowd sipping holiday wines and brandies. Not wanting to alarm the “Muffy” and “Buffy” people, I banished myself up on the second floor where our drawing group is held. Yes, I have a sense of decorum instilled in me by my mother. So in the name of propriety, I kept my braless, bare-legged self up at the top of the stairs.

This shot came out pretty nice. The holiday glow certainly comes through:

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Standing in the same spot but straight up at the ceiling. Nice architectural detail:

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Some of the National Arts Club’s distinguished past members include photographer Alfred Steiglitz, painters William Merritt Chase, George Bellows, and Robert Henri, sculptor Daniel Chester French, architect Stanford White, literary figures W.H Auden and Mark Twain, and even former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Don’t think any artist models have ever made it onto that list. But at least there’s a place for us up on the second floor 🙂

6 thoughts on “Old New York and a Private Club

  1. dougrogers says:

    Jackson Pollack woulda’ gone downstairs and punched somebody.

  2. dougfromcanada says:

    terrific story Claudia, better the second floor than the basement, and cool pics you took, you always seem find a way to have fun….
    dougfromcanada

  3. artmodel says:

    Dougrogers, yeah, that’s for sure. Anyone who pees in Peggy Guggenheim’s fireplace would have a field day at the National Arts Club!

    Love your comment, thanks 🙂

    Claudia

  4. artmodel says:

    dougfromcanada,

    Better than the basement indeed. Plus, the second floor is “above” them. I like that! 😉 Glad you like the pics.

    Claudia

  5. thanks for all that history. i love learning in blogs. so few do teach nowadays.

  6. artmodel says:

    Waverly,

    You’re welcome, and thank you for the compliment! I’m so flattered that you, or anybody, could learn from this blog.

    Thanks for posting a comment 🙂

    Claudia

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