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

Oct 31
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ATTENTION ALL MEMBER ARTISTS

Artist Event October 31, 2014 at Monroe House
Nov 3
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Piano Jazz at the Arts Club

Open to the Public November 3, 2014 at Monroe House
Nov 7
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November Art Exhibition Opening

Exhibit Opening November 7, 2014 at Monroe House
Nov 9
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Marfield Prize Annual Reader's Tea

Members Event November 9, 2014 at Monroe House
Nov 14
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Club Dinner: Pianist Brian Ganz

Members Event November 14, 2014 at Monroe House
Nov 19
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Evenings with Extraordinary Artists: Stephen May on "Three Generations of Wyeths"

Evenings with Extraordinary Artists November 19, 2014 at Monroe House
Nov 27
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Thanksgiving at the Arts Club

Members Event November 27, 2014 at Monroe House

Recent News

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Thursday, October 30th

Attention All Members!

The 2014 Winter Member’s Exhibition is just around the corner. Take-in will be Sunday, November 30 from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm at the Club.  As in the past, each member may submit up to five works.  Dr. Aneta Georgievska-Shine, art historian from the University of Maryland, will be the curator and juror for the Members’…

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Wednesday, October 29th

Out and About: The New Movement

The New Movement: Rising Stars of The Washington Ballet Studio Company The Washington Ballet is proud to announce the launch of a new performance series featuring TWB’s Studio Company, a talented group of young dancers who receive vigorous training and will become the next generation of ballet stars. Former TWB Studio Company members include Professional…

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Monday, October 27th

Out and About: The Art of the Matter

On November 4, National Geographic will host The Art of the Matter, featuring artist, fashion designer, “creative conservationist”, and Nat Geo 2014 Emerging Explorer Asher Jay. The event will be a wild ride on the Serengeti, including lively face-offs with elephants, lions, and zebras, as she unveils her stunning multimedia project on African wildlife, Beyond the…

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