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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

Apr 19
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April Art Exhibition: Portraits: Interior and Exterior (Ongoing)

Gallery Show April 3, 2015 to April 25, 2015 at Monroe House
Apr 22
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Apr 24
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Friday Noon Concerts

Friday Noon Concert April 24, 2015 at Monroe House
Apr 29
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National Poetry Month: A Tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes

Free Public Event April 29, 2015 at Monroe House
Apr 19
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May 2015 Art Exhibition (Ongoing)

Free Public Event May 1, 2015 to May 30, 2015 at Monroe House
May 11
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An Evening with Jazz Pianist Janelle Gill

Open to the Public May 11, 2015 at Monroe House
May 19
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Writing the Wrongs: Looting in Literature

Free Public Event May 19, 2015 at Monroe House
May 27
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Evenings with Extraordinary Artists: The Men's Camerata

Evenings with Extraordinary Artists May 27, 2015 at Monroe House

Recent News

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Wednesday, April 15th

Out and About: The Hill Center Concert Series

The Hill Center Concert Series is pleased to welcome Shanghai Jazz vocalist/composer Le Zhang, performing Chinese traditional and modern music in addition to her own compositions that reflect the Shanghai jazz heritage. Burnett Thompson Director, Hill Center Concert Series SHANGHAI JAZZ VOCALIST: LE ZHANG Wednesday, May 6, 2015 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm Cost: $15…

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Friday, April 3rd

Out and About: Chamber Dance Performance

On June 24 at 7:30 pm, Chamber Dance Project will raise the curtain on their 2015 season at the Lansburgh Theatre. Experience the company’s edgy sophistication first hand by reserving your all-access ticket for their highly anticipated opening night performance and cast party. Enjoy a glass of champagne before taking your center orchestra seat. After…

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Friday, March 20th

Go Green. Get the E-Newsletter

Dear Members, If you’re interested in only receiving the e-newsletter (and not the hard copy) let us know. Contact Nichola Hays at Nichola@artsclubofwashington.org.

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