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History

When Timothy Caldwell, a wealthy businessman from Philadelphia, decided in 1806 to build “the handsomest house in the Capital City,” little did he dream that it would one day serve as home for President Monroe, ambassadors foreign and domestic, the nation’s first weatherman, and the city’s oldest club devoted to the arts. But that and more is what history had in store for the elegant Federal townhouse that the Arts Club calls home.

The Executive Mansion

Secretary of State James Monroe and his wife Elizabeth came to live here in 1811, and tastefully furnished their home with objects acquired in Paris where Monroe served as America’s minister. Following the burning of the White House during the War of 1812, the residence became the city’s social hub. Dolley Madison was a frequent guest.

In March 1817, it would gain greater luster when James Monroe was inaugurated as the nation’s fifth chief executive. During the first six months of the new administration, the president and his wife continued to make this their home until the White House was fully restored in September of that year. The first of Monroe’s Inaugural Balls was held in the spacious second-floor parlor.

Diplomats and a Meteorologist

Following the Monroes’ departure, the house became the British legation, and under Ministers Stratford Canning and Charles Vaughan, was the site of many lavish receptions and balls. Later it was home to former Congressman Charles Francis Adams, Sr. (son of John Quincy Adams), who burnished the house’s reputation as a residence where lively social gatherings, excellent food, and convivial company could be found.

A decidedly more cerebral aura was cast in 1877 when Cleveland Abbe purchased the house. A renowned meteorologist, Abbe oversaw the establishment of the United States Weather Bureau and served as its first director. Curiously, it is Abbe’s association with this house (rather than President Monroe’s) that led in 1976 to its designation as a National Historic Landmark.

The Arts Club Finds a Home

Inspired by London’s Chelsea Arts Club and the National Arts Club in Manhattan, Washington artists created their own club in May 1916 and purchased the Monroe House as its home. With a focus on painting, sculpture, music, and drama, the Arts Club provided a contrast to Washington’s more traditional clubs. It was also the first club in the city to admit women as charter members. Sculptor Henry K. Bush-Brown was the first president. His portrait (by his wife, Lydia) now hangs above one of the club’s first-floor fireplaces. The MacFeeley House, a Victorian structure, was joined to the Monroe House in 1929. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Early on, the Arts Club was a favorite destination for visiting New York and Hollywood luminaries, including D.W. Griffith, Claudette Colbert, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Tallulah Bankhead. From the Roaring Twenties to the Swinging Sixties, the club’s New Year’s Bal Bohème was the hottest ticket in town.

An Enduring Presence

Today, The Arts Club of Washington builds on its distinguished cultural, social, and architectural traditions as it continues to evolve as a presence in the nation’s capital.

As an art gallery…a site for performances and programs…a symbol of preservation in action…and an elegant and congenial gather ing place for Arts Club members and their guests, the James Monroe House’s link to Washington and its history endures.

House Events

Jul 30
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Sep 23
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Bristor Dinner

Members Event September 23, 2016 at Monroe House
Sep 28
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Painting Workshop Begins

Open to the Public September 28, 2016 at Monroe House
Sep 28
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Dance Committee to Present Christopher K. Morgan & Artists

Open to the Public September 28, 2016 at Monroe House
Oct 3
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An Evening with Pianist Yoko Miwa

Open to the Public October 3, 2016 at Monroe House
Nov 7
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An Evening with Pianist Mark Meadows

Open to the Public November 7, 2016 at Monroe House
Mar 6
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An Evening with Pianist Orrin Evans

Open to the Public March 6, 2017 at Monroe House
May 8
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An Evening with Pianist Fernando Otero

Open to the Public May 8, 2017 at Monroe House

Recent News

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Wednesday, May 25th

Marfield Prize Award Winner Michael Reidel Visits School Without Walls

Michael Riedel visited DC’s School Without Walls High School with Marfield Administrator Sass Brown and FABUM artistic director and Arts Club Member Jameson Freeman on Friday, May 20th. During his visit Riedel and shared stories from his personal and professional journeys with a large and enthusiastic group of students. Read more here!      …

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Friday, May 13th

Thank you! 100 Canvases for 100 Years

Thank you to everyone for such a successful fundraising event! Through the sale of nearly “100 small but meaningful acts of creativity and color” (Washington Post, 6 May 2016) we were able to raise $10,000 for the establishment of an art preservation fund. If you were unable to attend the reception a few canvases are…

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Wednesday, May 4th

And The Winner Is…

The winner of the 2015 One Act Play Competition is Rubbas by Steve Karp. Based on a true story, Rubbas tells the story of a little known, but important Alabama condom manufacturing company that has been the primary supplier of condoms to the U.S. government’s Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.). When the Agency learns it can buy…

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