History

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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 20
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Apr 20
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In the Footsteps of John Muir (Ongoing)

Exhibit Opening April 15, 2014 to April 26, 2014 at Monroe House
Apr 20
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Arts Club Easter Brunch

Members Event April 20, 2014 at Monroe House
Apr 22
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Manon Cleary’s Life and Art

Free Public Event April 22, 2014 at Monroe House
Apr 23
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EVENINGS WITH EXTRAORDINARY ARTISTS: Grace Cavalieri

Evenings with Extraordinary Artists April 23, 2014 at Monroe House
Apr 26
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2014 James Monroe Dinner

Members Event April 26, 2014 at Monroe House

Recent News

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Monday, April 14th

Manon Cleary at the Arts Club of Washington

April 4 opening reception of “Manon Cleary, Obsessive Observer” — which presents a new perspective through her photographic studies and will remain on view until April 26 — the club’s exhibition committee chair Pat Moore spoke of the extent and expanse of the late artist’s creative spirit and process. The exhibit is produced by Cleary’s…

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Sunday, April 13th

2014 Arts Club Scholarship Competition Recipients Announced

The Arts Club of Washington’s annual Ann Bartsch Dunne scholarship awards recognize promising students specializing in a specific art form or medium. The  2014 scholarships, given to outstanding student filmmakers, have been awarded to: Kristen Leigh Wilson (winner, $1,500), Virginia Commonwealth University, for Exposed Cristina O’Connell (first runner-up, $1,000), Virginia Commonwealth University, for Dangerous Abigail Harri (second…

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Tuesday, February 11th

The Marfield Prize Makes a Scene!

  The Marfield Prize, National Award for Arts Writing, is featured in the February 2014 issue of  Scene4 , an online magazine about the arts. Read the all about the Award here. Enjoy!

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