Since 1898, the National Arts Club has celebrated cultural life in America. Committed to stimulating and developing public interest in the arts, the club is home to an expansive American arts collection and also hosts programs on painting and sculpture, literature, film, architecture, fashion, photography, and music.
Emerging from a need for American artists at the turn of the 20th century to look to their own country for inspiration rather than to Europe, the newly formed National Arts Club took up residence in a mansion on West 34th Street. After quickly outgrowing the house, the Club moved in 1906 to the Tilden Mansion at 14 and 15 Gramercy Park South. The Club purchased the house from Samuel Tilden who, after losing the 1876 presidential race, had turned his attention to redesigning and joining the two addresses into what they are today.
During the Tilden renovations, famed architect of Central Park, Calvert Vaux, was brought on for the redesign. Vaux modernized the façade of the mansion with sandstone and added bay windows and ornamentation in the Aesthetic Movement style. In addition to Vaux, sculptors were also brought in to create elaborate fireplaces and bookcases, and doors and stained glass panels were installed. A unique stained glass dome designed for Tilden’s library still crowns the room, which has been turned into the National Arts Club’s bar.
The combined houses became a meeting ground for a long list of renowned artists. Club members have included three U.S. presidents as well as many famed American artists. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission declared the conjoined mansions at 15 Gramercy Park South a landmark in 1966. A decade later, the federal government designated the building a National Historic Landmark. Although a secret tunnel within the famed structure has not yet been found, rumors have persisted for over a century that Tilden had one built to allow for a quick escape if necessary.
Today, the Club welcomes members and non-members alike and has become an attraction for both local Gramercy Park condo residents as well as tourists. Public sketching and drawing classes are available on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and special events commend leaders in the arts through exhibitions, theatrical and musical performances, lectures, and readings. All four of the Club’s galleries are open to the public during the week, with each having a unique focus. Currently the Grand Gallery and Gregg Gallery are home to works of the Russian American Foundation, while the Marquis Gallery is hosting the work of Marela Zacarias, who specializes in combining painting and sculpture. And in the spirit of celebrating the 225th anniversary of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the Trask Gallery is currently hosting the exhibition, Courtroom Art: Eyewitness for the Public.
It’s easy to see why the National Arts Club is popular among those living in Gramercy Park condos. In addition to its classes and special events programming, the Club also hosts a dining room and bar that are open during the week by reservation for members as well as guests of members, and gallery space that can be rented for private events. For more information about the National Arts Club, visit: http://www.nationalartsclub.org.
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