Arts Club honors its old adversary

Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, was recognized for her years of community service at the National Arts Club’s 120th anniversary gala. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images North America)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

In an event no one in the neighborhood could have foreseen sans a crystal ball just a decade ago, the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park honored Gramercy Park Block Association President Arlene Harrison at the club’s 120th anniversary gala.

While Harrison and the club have enjoyed a positive working relationship in recent years, she was actively involved in investigations that resulted in the ousting of the club’s former president, O. Aldon James, for misusing the club’s funds and real estate.

Arthur Barnes, chairman of the gala held on Saturday, November 3 and a member of the club’s board of governors, said that the awards were specifically in recognition of community service and the award for Harrison was due to her long-standing relationship with the club and Gramercy Park.

“She’s a tremendously effective advocate of Gramercy Park,” Barnes said. “She’s been a member of the club for many years and we wanted to recognize her leadership within our community, including with the 13th Precinct only two blocks away, and with Brotherhood Synagogue and Calvary Church.”

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Local sites to be explored in Open House New York

Church of the Transfiguration at 1 East 29th Street (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Church of the Transfiguration at 1 East 29th Street (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Open House New York, an annual event that encourages conversations about architecture, public spaces and urban life, will be taking place throughout the city this weekend. Buildings and parks throughout the five boroughs will be participating and a handful of local institutions are opening their doors to the public, with no entrance fees at these participating sites.

Most of the open access sites offering tours this weekend are buildings, including historic landmarks and skyscrapers, but one unexpected offering includes the greenmarket at Union Square. The site serves as an info hub for the event all day on Saturday but is also featured as a site in itself. There will be a behind-the-scenes tour with GrowNYC, the non-profit organization that runs the greenmarket, at 10 a.m. on Saturday to meet some of the farmers who serve as regular vendors that bring fresh produce to New Yorkers.

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Gramercy Park community activist Herbert Rosenfield dies

Rosenfield

Herbert Rosenfield

By Sabina Mollot

On July 20, Herbert Rosenfield, a longtime Gramercy Park resident and community activist — also an original resident of Peter Cooper and World War II veteran — died at the age of 97.

His passing, which came just 16 days away from his next birthday, was due to diabetes as well as kidney disease, which he was diagnosed with in June. His funeral was held last Monday.

Rosenfield, who lived in Gramercy Park since 1950 (after a two-year stint in the newly opened Peter Cooper), was throughout his life involved in the community, focusing on quality of life issues through neighborhood organizations like the Block Association.

His daughter, Patricia Rosenfield, told Town & Village that when her father and mother, Audrey Priest Rosenfield, moved into the community, “They were the youngest residents at the time.” Feeling there was a serious problem in the neighborhood of people not cleaning up after their dogs, Rosenfield, along with the rector of Calvary Church at that time organized the first community park cleanup event. Patricia also said Rosenfield was active in pushing for what would become the Pooper Scooper Law.

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Ray Kelly recalls life as New York’s top cop

Ray Kelly

Ray Kelly

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly joined his son, Fox5 anchor Greg Kelly, in a discussion about his life and career at the National Arts Club on Tuesday, May 10.

The pair discussed Kelly’s service as the city’s longest serving police commissioner, but Greg also said that he wanted to highlight parts of his father’s story that people might not know about during the discussion, such as the fact that his father was first in his class at the police academy, receiving a commemorative weapon for the honor.

“Just to illustrate the power of Bloomingdale’s in those days, that was known as the Bloomingdale’s trophy,” Kelly said. “Bloomingdale’s had a lot of juice in those days.”

The event at the Arts Club in Gramercy Park was in promotion of Kelly’s newly released memoir, Vigilance: My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City.

“We rehearsed nothing for this and he has a history of trying to submarine me,” Kelly joked about his relationship with his son before the conversation started.

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GNA holds annual community exhibit at Arts Club

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By Sabina Mollot

The Gramercy Neighborhood Associates, which curates an exhibit at the National Arts Club each year featuring works by local artists, said that this year’s was the biggest show yet with around 100 works on display. This year’s show will also be the longest, having kicked off on March 15 and running through March 25 in three out of five of the club’s gallery spaces.

Sixty-six artists and photographers participated this year, mostly from Gramercy and Stuyvesant Town. (Full disclosure: One participant was the person writing this.)

On the night of the opening reception for the show on March 17, Alan Krevis, president of the GNA, figured there were about 300 people in attendance, as he peered over the sea of heads. This is normal for the GNA’s art openings.

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Big shows are boosting NAC’s profile

Guests view prints by Salvador Dali during a show at the National Arts Club in February. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Guests view prints by Salvador Dali during a show at the National Arts Club in February. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

It was four years ago when the National Arts Club was making far more headlines for a scandal, with its longtime president O. Aldon James replaced over allegations of misusing club money and terrorizing anyone who crossed him, than for the arts it was supposed to be championing. At that time, a longtime active member, Dianne Bernhard, replaced James as president of the club. After serving for one two-year term, she opted to take the position of director of fine arts, which, she explained at the time, was to bring the focus back on the arts, and to get the social club taken seriously by the art world.

Since then, to say she’s achieved her goal would be an understatement, with the club’s five galleries, which are open to the public, running different shows each month, and at least a few times a year with works by high profile contemporary artists or old masters. There are also monthly Sunday salons with guest speakers that tie into the shows and the club is in the process of finding a new artist in residence. The club’s programming hasn’t gone unnoticed by art professionals and collectors, and club membership has even seen a boost because of it.

“It’s brought more young people in and it’s brought more art-minded people,” said Bernhard.

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National Arts Club president says he’s focused on the future

Chris Poe, who was elected president of the National Arts Club in October, said the club will be expanding its public programming and has just opened a rental artists' studio space. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Chris Poe, who was elected president of the National Arts Club in October, said the club will be expanding its public programming and has just opened a rental artists’ studio space. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

With a tumultuous, litigation-filled year almost behind them, the administrators at the National Arts Club are looking forward to a new start — one in which the focus is back on the arts.

Last week, the club’s new president, advertising executive Chris Poe, told Town & Village about plans for the place, which include the launch of its artist-in-residence program, holding even more exhibits and earning income through the rental of new, onsite artist studio spaces.

Poe, who was elected by the club’s board of governors on October 17, stepped up into the position after the surprising decision by its previous president, the Rev. Tom Pike, to resign in September.

One of NAC’s 21 board members himself, Poe said the election results were not a surprise since he’d been asked previously by other members if he would be willing to fill the volunteer role if chosen, and said he would. Then at the time of the election during a board of governors meeting, he was asked to leave the room for a bit. “Which is why,” he said, “I had an idea.” Poe said he isn’t aware of anyone else having vied for the position.

Poe, who’s been a member of the club since 2006, said he got more active with various committees in 2011. As for his new title for the next year, he called it “an awesome responsibility. It’s something I’m very proud of.”

He also considers himself fortunate, having been elected after the club ended a more than two-year-long battle with another former president, O. Aldon James. In July, James agreed to a settlement that paid the club $950,000, following an investigation by the attorney general into allegations that James used the nonprofit club’s funds as his own personal piggy bank and mismanaged apartments and other rental spaces in the club building.

Had the litigation still been ongoing, Poe admitted he wasn’t sure he’d have been willing to become the president, since he lives in midtown rather than at the club building, and his day job as head of advertising and brand management at the Pennsylvania-based firm Hartford Funds means he can only be at the club in the mornings and evenings.

But with the flurry of back and forth lawsuits behind the NAC, Poe said the 14-hour days past presidents have had to commit to are no longer necessary. Instead, he’s been focused on communicating with the various committee leaders and the club’s general manager, John Eramo, when he’s there and doing so via email and phone when he’s not.

“The president is now about being a good quarterback,” said Poe, adding that generally the topic of conversation members are most interested in is that of the club’s future.

“We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us to take the club to that next level,” he said. “The first (priority) is the mission of the club, which is in the charter, to be a place where the public can access education about the arts and the second (priority) is member expectations.”

Those expectations, he added, include increasing the value of membership through more programming and longterm planning, “not just for the season but the years to come, where we’re going to take the club.”

So far, the programming has already increased with the club now running a few exhibits at any given time, with some turning over as frequently as every two weeks. Though some spaces in the club, like the bar and dining room are members only, the five gallery spaces are open to the public as are certain events like author readings held by the literary committee and events held by the film committee. Art-wise, Poe said the club tries to embrace modern forms of art as well as the type of art its become known for showcasing, from the mid-20th century.

Currently on display at the club is “Six by Nine,” a group exhibit of works that have the dimensions of six by nine feet; a calligraphy exhibit, a silverpoint exhibit and on December 16, the NAC will open “The Triumph of Winter,” a selection of works from the permanent archives. (See Town & Village’s Around & About listings for details.)

In fulfilling another expectation of members, which is more transparency and access to the board, there are also now more events geared towards the club’s general members meeting the decision makers behind the scenes.

Poe said he and the other board members have come to think about the Gramercy Park institution as a place that’s being groomed for the next generation of members. At this time there are around 2,200 members and younger members get a break on dues. Dues last went up last year and are now $1,075 for local residents, $750 for non-locals, $700 for those under 28 and $825 for those between 28-35. Additionally, dual memberships are available at a minimal extra cost.

Younger members, said Poe, have been joining after discovering the club through recent exhibits, and tend to be followers of the artists.

As a result of this, not to mention the recent settlement with James, financially, the club’s in good shape, said Poe. That said, how the NAC’s income is spent these days is scrutinized carefully by its audit committee, which was a requirement of the attorney general.

This income now includes rent from a studio at the club that has been open since September. The studio, which faces Gramercy Park and “has excellent light,” said Poe, is rented out to three artists who pay $300 each and get to use it whenever they like, with storage space for their supplies.

Soon, the studio will also be used by the first artist to be part of the National Arts Club’s artist-in-residency program. The first artist will be announced this week at Art Basel Miami, a massive art industry event, and the NAC’s program is being sponsored by FLATT magazine.

As for the club’s other rental spaces, the 42 apartments of various size (studio to duplex), only club members are allowed to rent them, and all rents are market rate, also a requirement of the A.G. Rental spaces have recently been renovated, including 13 that are used on a short-term basis by non-local members. At this time, said Poe, the club has a 90 percent occupancy rate of the transient rooms.

Though Poe is aware some members have asked for affordable housing for artists, “the reality,” he said, “is we need to make money. The rental property has got to be a revenue generator for us.”

After all, the maintaining of a Gramercy Park brownstone built in 1840 isn’t cheap. The last time it was fully renovated was in 1870, though there are some repairs planned and the building is in the midst of being inspected.

When not on the club property or at work, Poe said he can often be found at museums or at the ballet. He also loves to cook. “I do traditional American with a French twist.” Other times, he and his longtime partner, stylist David Zyla, can be found walking around the city.

“We’re wanderers,” said Poe. “We’re always looking for the next food movement. The television just isn’t on in our house. We’re both in love with our city.”

Poe, who’s been in a New Yorkers for the past 30 years, grew up in numerous areas along the northeast U.S. His family moved often and he ended up coming to New York City “as fast as I possibly could. That’s where my passion for the National Arts Club comes from,” he said. “In itself it’s such a part of what makes New York great.”

James settles lawsuit with owner of Gramercy hardware store for $10

Warshaw Hardware owner Ed Warshaw (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Warshaw Hardware owner Ed Warshaw (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Earlier in the year, the owner of Gramercy’s Warshaw hardware shop found himself on the receiving end of a lawsuit by the former president of the National Arts Club, which was also filed against the club.

In the suit, O. Aldon James accused business owner Ed Warshaw of breaking into apartments he controlled, so the club could clear out the spaces, which were hoarded, after he stepped down as president amidst allegations of misusing the club’s money and real estate. At the time, James said he lost no less than $10 million worth of personal property, including items that would have helped defend him in his legal battle with the club, as a result of the cleanup.

However, that lawsuit has since been settled, Warshaw shared this week. A deal was actually reached in July, when Warshaw was away, in which James would agree to the suit in exchange for a settlement to Warshaw of $10.

“I’m still waiting for my ten dollars,” noted Warshaw, although he admitted he doesn’t care about the money. After the suit was filed, Warshaw denied any wrongdoing, saying that although he had done locksmithing work for the club, he didn’t have anything to do with the entering of any James-controlled spaces.

“It just hurt my feelings,” he said this week, “for him to include me in his shenanigans. I’ve known the guy for so long.”

The settlement was actually part of a larger settlement James reached with Attorney General Eric

Former National Arts Club President O. Aldon James (Photo courtesy of National Arts Club)

Former National Arts Club President O. Aldon James (Photo courtesy of National Arts Club)

Schneiderman in July, in which he was made to pay $950,000 to the club. In exchange a number of lawsuits between him, his twin brother John and friend Steven Leitner against the club and vise versa, all ended, according to Roland Riopelle, the club’s attorney.

Over the phone this week, Riopelle explained, “It ended when that settlement went down in July.”

Since then, he said the National Arts Club has been “thriving,” and that he wishes James success in “whatever endeavor he has moved onto.”

The lawsuit was also against the club for what James called a “malicious” attempt by the administration that replaced him to throw him, John and Leitner out of their apartments at the club building on Gramercy Park South.

He said the club’s then Vice President John Morisano had Warshaw break into his apartment and change the locks to a space leased to John James to store artwork. Other items O. Aldon James said were locked up and later destroyed included 25 years worth of day planners and important financial records like credit card receipts, billing slips and some benefactor data.

However, those charges were denied by Riopelle. Riopelle told T&V at the time the only things tossed during the cleanup were items that were “obviously junk” and not paperwork. He also defended Warshaw, confirming the business owner’s story that he hadn’t been involved in the locksmithing work.

“This is like the Japanese horror movie version of litigation,” Riopelle told this paper. “It’s like Godzilla’s tail wiping out the hardware store while battling with the National Arts Club.”

When asked for comment, Barry Felder, the attorney representing James in the case said, “There was a global settlement and Warshaw was included in the global settlement.”

Prior to the settlement, Warshaw said he actually ran into the club’s former longtime leader nearby the club building on East 20th Street. Warshaw attempted to talk to him, but said James got flustered in response. “He kept saying, ‘I wasn’t the guy. I wasn’t the guy.’”

Rev. Tom Pike resigns as NAC president

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Rev. Tom Pike (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Rev. Tom Pike (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

After just a few months at the helm of the National Arts Club,  Reverend Tom Pike said he would be resigning as president, Town & Village has learned.

Pike, who was elected by the club’s Board of Governors as its president in May of this year, cited his need to focus more attention on prior, longstanding commitments. The former rector of Calvary-St. George’s Church took over the position from Dianne Bernhard, who was the president after O. Aldon James stepped down in 2011 amidst an internal financial controversy.

According to a brief statement from the National Arts Club, the club’s first vice president, Ira Goldberg, will assume the role of acting president until the board elects a new president, which is expected to happen this October.

UPDATE: Reverend Pike didn’t respond to a request for comment on his reasons for resigning, but long-time friend and associate Arlene Harrison said that he has commitments throughout the city and he would not be able to commit the amount of time and energy required in the position.

“It was totally unexpected from my point of view and I had no idea that he was thinking of stepping down,” Harrison, the president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, added. “After decades of lawsuits and difficulties at the National Arts Club, our community was so grateful that a man of peace, Tom, was going to go in there and be the president. That was one of the major reasons we did a membership drive to bring our community back to club. The community was distressed to learn that he is no longer able to be the president.”

Letters to the Editor: July 14

Keep NAC apartments affordable

The following is an open letter to new National Arts Club President Dianne Bernhard and the club’s Board of Governors, following stories in Town & Village and its sister publication Real Estate Weekly on plans to rent vacant apartments at NAC at market rate prices.

The Concerned Artists and Members of The National Arts Club write to you and the Board of Governors in response to your recent statement in Real Estate Weekly announcing your intention to rent or sell club-owned apartments for the maximum prices obtainable in the NYC real estate market.  Continue reading