Monday, June 23, 2014

The Lost Calumet Club--No. 267 Fifth Avenue

The combined mansions sit behind a heavy iron fence in 1902.  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In 1879, the year the Calumet Club was organized, the neighborhood of Fifth Avenue and 29th Street was among the most exclusive in Manhattan.  Quiet and refined, it was marked by the brownstone mansions of Manhattan’s elite.  At the northeast corner, in No. 267 lived the family of Hartman Kuhn; while next door at No. 269 lived Henry Delafield and his daughter, Frances Henrietta.  Delefield’s wife, Mary Parish, had died in the house in 1870, just five years after their marriage.

Membership in at least one exclusive men’s club was de rigueur for wealthy gentlemen.  Originally simply social organizations; as more clubs sprouted they specialized.  There were athletic clubs like the New York Yacht Club and the Racquet Club; political clubs; clubs that focused on professions or interests; and university clubs. 

The Calumet Club began with just 15 members whose intentions were to establish a place where art and literature could be discussed.  A decade later The New York Times remembered “When the club was established not very long ago there was an intellectual element in its organization which promised to make it popular among artists and literary men.  Its very name was chosen by a man of important literary attainments, and was intended to signify that democracy within its walls between exponents of the purely intellectual and the purely money-bag portions of society such as wine, pipes, and love have ever been known to establish.”

From its 15 original members the roles rapidly swelled and the club quickly outgrew its leased house on 13th Street.  On April 12, 1885 The Times said “The club is one of the most successful that has ever been organized in this city.”  At the time the club’s membership limit of 300 had nearly been reached. It began looking for a commodious clubhouse that would reflect the social status of its members.  And it soon found one--the two brick-and-brownstone homes at Nos. 267 and 269 Fifth Avenue.

The Calumet Club announced that it would move into the combined homes “in all probability” after May 1, 1886.  The news that the Calumet would have a Fifth Avenue address caused a stir among a few of the other high-class clubs.  Two months later The New York Times wrote “Already several members have resigned from the St. Nicholas and have gone over to the Calumet Club.  The Calumet Club has announced its intention of removing to Fifth-avenue next May, when its present lease expires, and there is no doubt that if the St. Nicholas Club is not on the avenue by that time many members will resign from the St. Nicholas in favor of the Calumet.”

As predicted, the two mansions were internally combined and all was in order for the May 1886 move-in.  On April 18, 1886 The Times reported “So well regulated are club matters that it is as easy for a club to move as for—well, say Barnum’s circus, which flits like the traditional Arab.  The membership of the Calumet has largely increased since the decision to move to the Avenue.”

The grand, combined mansions would provide the necessary amenities expected in a gentleman’s club—smoking rooms, billiard rooms, library, dining areas, for instance.  Upstairs were both sleeping rooms and suites for resident and non-resident members. 

Heavy canvas awnings shielded the interiors from the heat and damaging effects of direct sunlight -- photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

Although King’s Handbook of New York City rather unfairly said in 1892, “The Calumet is a club for the men whom the limit of membership and the long waiting list keep out of the Union;” there was no doubt regarding its high-end membership.  Potential members were nominated by a standing member, then voted upon by a Governing Committee.  An initiation fee of $170 was required and dues were $65 per year for resident members—a total of about $3,500 today.

Each summer the families of wealthy New Yorkers escaped the heat by heading to Newport, Bar Harbor, or country estates.  Their mansions were shuttered for three months and the furniture and artwork shrouded against dust.  During the summer weekdays the millionaire businessmen, bankers and attorneys therefore stayed at their clubs.  Along with Calumet Club members who used the rooms during the summer months, there were also unmarried members who lived permanently here. 

The move to Fifth Avenue had an unintended repercussion.  Certain sons of millionaires, attracted by the address, sought and were awarded memberships.  Their shallow interests diluted the scholarly tone set by the original group of artists and writers.  Little by little those veteran members walked away.

On December 20, 1889 The Times lamented “the influences of Fifth-avenue have been, it is said, steadily in the ascendant, and the habitués of the Astor-place publishers have gradually removed themselves from their now haughty companions and have gone where more congenial associates are possible.  Thus came a limited divorce between the purely intellectual and the purely financial cliques in the organization.”

But all traces of the original club were not yet gone.  “Nevertheless, there has remained a faint aroma of the author’s pipes in the smoking room of the club, and some of the older members look back with undisguised regret to the time when these circulators of thought were wont to meet.  They tell that then there was conversation concerning other things besides pools and London burlesque actresses, and that even in the card room, when a bluff was successful, could be heard quotations from Horace instead of condemnations of Hoyle.”

On January 16, 1896 the club was rocked when it was discovered that several of the members’ rooms had been burglarized.  Clubmen across the city united in the belief that either club employees were involved in the crime; or were simply incompetent.  The New-York Tribune, on January 19, said that clubmen believed “some of the employes at the Calumet Club deserved severe blame for the robbery at the club on Thursday night, and that the superintendent of the club could not escape censure for the evident lack of fidelity among the attendants.  It was declared that no thief could invade the rooms of a club if the attendants were watchful and sober, and that it is the business of a club superintendent to engage only servants who are vouched for as entirely trustworthy.”

The morning after the theft, police arrested two men for stabbing Frank Boylan in Battery Park.  In the course of their investigation they found property stolen from the Calumet, wrapped in a monogrammed club towel, stashed in a public lavatory there.

Clarence Andrews was among the members robbed.  He had recently taken his apartment on the second floor here and The Sun remarked that “he was quite a heavy loser” in the theft.  However, as “most of the jewelry was recovered shortly afterward,” the newspaper said “Mr. Andrews paid no more attention to it.” 

Not, at least, for a while.

Well known in music and art circles both in New York and Europe, Andrews also held memberships in the Union League, Players’, Racquet Club, Seawanhaka-Corinthian Yacht Club, and the American Fine Arts Society.  About two weeks after the burglary, he returned to his apartment to find he had been robbed once again.  The Sun reported “The value of jewelry taken he estimates at about $450.”  That figure would amount to a little over $12,000 today.  But it was not merely the monetary value of the jewelry that concerned Andrews.  “I lost many family souvenirs that can never be replaced,” he said.

Now tenant and landlord became engaged in a heated tug-of-war.  “After the second robbery Mr. Andrews contended that the club was responsible for his loss, as it had allowed careless methods to prevail in its management of things.  The managers of the club took a widely different view of the matter, and refused to make any reparation for the losses which he had sustained.”  Finally an incensed Clarence Andrews packed his things and moved two blocks north to No. 489 Fifth Avenue.  “His reasons for so doing, he said yesterday, were simply because he felt that he did not have any protection while he stayed there and that in the event of another robbery he could expect nothing in return from the club,” reported The Sun.

The club managers promptly requested that he pay the rent on the suite for the rest of the year, since he had promised to stay that long.  The heated dispute went on for nearly a year until, in December 1896, the Calumet Club dropped Andrews from its membership roles.  He never paid the rent, by the way.

In 1904 the Calumet Club was a pivotal part of the shocking scandal that rocked New York society.  Wealthy wine merchant Frank de Peyster Hall had long been a member.  He was President of the F. de Peyster Hall Company and lived nearby at No. 113 West 28th Street in what The Evening World called “luxurious surroundings.”   Hall held memberships in other exclusive men’s clubs including the St. Anthony Club and the New York Yacht.

The unmarried millionaire sometimes stayed overnight at the Calumet Club and nighttime activities resulted in his being asked to resign.  Like all men’s clubs, young boys were employed as bellboys to handle messages and tend to the incidental needs of the members.   When club officers heard of the “gossip of bellboys” the youths were questioned.  Club attendants said that “over a long period of time” the “boys were afraid to go to Hall’s room while he was living in the club.”

This led to an investigation by discreet private detectives.  A young detective was placed in the Calumet Club as a bellboy.  “On the strength of his evidence the manager of the detective agency, according to the club officials, went to Mr. Hall, handed him a resignation blank and asked him to fill it in,” reported The Evening World some months later.

The sensational facts of Hall's “disgraceful practices” were kept from the public and Hall’s resignation was reported to be due to his unhappiness with the way the club was managed.  But little by little rumors leaked out.  By September 1904 his business partners heard the story and he was forced to resign. 

On October 5, in an effort to control the “ostracism both socially and in business circles” he was enduring, Frank De Peyster Hall sued Alfred H. Bond, president of the Calumet Club, and George A. Carmack, secretary of the New York Yacht Club. Charging the men with slander, he sued each for $50,000.

Hall’s attempt to save face backfired.  As attorneys prepared their cases, newspapers were told that at least “seven witnesses, all of whom are boys” would testify.  To make matters worse, Bond sent a message to Hall’s lawyers saying, according to The Evening World, “that he desired no further publicity, but that if the suit were pressed he would lay the evidence in his possession before the District-Attorney, which the object of beginning criminal proceedings.”

Frank De Peyster Hall, once eminently successful and respected, had his back to the wall.  Pederasty in 1904 was not only a despicable crime; it was damning.  If his case went to trial, Hall would be shamed and ruined.

On October 10 The Evening World reported “It was Hall’s custom to take his breakfast in his room every morning at 8.45 o’clock.  Malvina Morse, the negro maid, took the breakfast to the room at the usual hour to-day.  The door was slightly ajar.  She knocked, but receiving no reply she entered.

“The sight that greeted her eyes caused her to drop the tray and rush into the passage with a scream of horror.  Hall was lying dead on the floor alongside the bed.  There was a bullet wound in his head and a pistol clasped in his right hand.”

The disgraced club member had taken the only way out he could conceive of.

Well-dressed spectators line the club's 29th Street side as policemen head west to Fifth Avenue to join The Police Parade on June 1, 1897.  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

As had been the case with Clarence Andrews, the management of the club did not always see eye-to-eye with its members.  In 1884 Fleming Tuckerman loaned the club a portrait of Benjamin Franklin by artist Benjamin West.  It was a family heirloom, purchased from the West family by an uncle and inherited by Tuckerman from his father.  By 1908 the portrait had hung in a conspicuous spot in the club for more than two decades.  And now Tuckerman requested the painting back.

The club management reminded Tuckerman that the portrait was a gift.  Tuckerman reminded the club that it was on loan.  The issue ended up in court with Tuckerman demanding the return of his painting or $4,000.  The club held its ground and testified that the Benjamin Franklin portrait was property of the Calumet Club; a gift from a generous member—Fleming Tuckerman.  On January 8, 1909 Tuckerman won his case and regained possession of the painting.  One assumes his previously-enjoyable evenings in the clubhouse came to an end.

By 1914 the area around the Calumet Club that had been fashionably residential in 1886 was overwhelmed by commerce.  On June 3 the members voted “almost unanimously in favor of moving the club to a location further uptown,” according to the New-York Tribune.  The newspaper noted “In the last few years many of its neighbors have moved in the uptown direction, which fact has influenced many Calumet members to urge a similar course.”

The “similar course” resulted in the club’s purchase of the Henry B. Hollins mansion at No. 12 West 56th Street.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported on the sale on June 27, 1914 and one week later it announced that the old clubhouse had been subleased.  “Alterations are to be made for business purposes,” it said.

The proud clubhouse briefly became home to the Home Relief Shop.  Here donated items were resold for charity.  “The objects of the Shop are three: To afford opportunity to the poor to buy warm winter clothing at a nominal sum; to give employment to women in the sewing rooms, where the worn garments are refurbished and donated materials made up, and to give direct relief to the poor through the charitable work of St. Mark’s Hospital,” explained The Evening World on December 18, 1914.

The lush vines have been stripped away and signs announce the impending demolition in 1915 -- photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library

But the tide of commerce would soon overtake the Calumet Club building.  Four months later, on April 17, 1915, The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported that the property had been sold for $600,000.  “The new owners will erect an eleven-story structure for their own occupancy.”  Within a year the combined mansions at Nos. 267 and 269 Fifth Avenue were gone; replaced by an office building.
The Edwardian skyscraper known as 267 Fifth Avenue still stands, albeit with an altered base.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library


  1. What a dubious tale of a club I never heard of before. Wow so much drama.

  2. I've always loved the look of brick, vines, and awnings combined.

    Nineteenth century elegance at its finest in my opinion.