We recently learned the distressing news that The Players Club, Gramercy Park’s members-only theater club, might be shut down due to financial mishandling. The Players, which we visited in February on a behind the scenes tour, recently celebrated its 125th anniversary, making it the oldest private club in New York City still in its original location.
The Players Club was founded in 1888 by Edwin Booth, a Shakespearian actor and brother of John Wilkes Booth, together with fifteen incorporators, including Mark Twain and General William Tecumseh Sherman. The Players occupies a beautiful five story Greek revival townhouse and members have access to a key that opens Gramercy Park. It was originally an all male club for actors to get to know society men. The club has an incredibly rich history, as evidenced by the many artifacts housed there, including Mark Twain’s pool cue, Booth’s costumes from Shakespearian dramas, and even the skull of an admirer that Booth used in Hamlet’s soliloquy. Portraits of the club’s members, including Carey Grant, Gregory Peck, Tommy Lee Jones, Liza Minelli, Jimmy Fallon, and many more hang on the wall by the staircase.
The club apparently has nearly $3 million in debt, owed to various people. On Monday, a Con Edison representative came to tell the club that they are going to shut off the electricity if the club doesn’t pay at least $5,000 out of their outstanding $8,000 bill. The club has been selling off paintings by John Singer Sargent in order to pay its debts. According to an email from the club’s president Johnnie Planco, on April 24, Executive Director John Martello stepped down and the club was forming a search committee for a new General Manager. The club’s members have complained about the lack of transparency in the financial operations. When Edwin Booth died, he left the building on Gramercy Park to The Players Club for as long as it operates, but if the club goes bankrupt, the property will revert back to the Booth family. Arlene Harrison, the president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, has received calls from real estate developers asking if the property is for sale because they have buyers.
We hope that the Players Club will be able to recover from this crisis. It would be a shame to lose such a venerable New York institution so rich in history and culture.