- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2002

Nestled in a jungle of late-20th-century office buildings in a busy downtown district stands one of the capital’s oldest residences, a home of former President James Monroe and current dwelling of the Arts Club of Washington.
“Part of our duty is we try to maintain the character of the house the way it was when Monroe lived here,” says Charles Fritzel, Arts Club president.
The red, four-story brick structure built in 1806, where Monroe lived off and on when he was secretary of state and later while the White House was being restored, serves as the club’s main building. Next to the Monroe House is the MacFeeley House, which was built in the late 1800s and connected to the Monroe House in 1920, four years after the Arts Club (the District’s oldest nonprofit arts organization) started calling 2017 I St. NW home. The club was formed by two groups of local artists that decided to join forces. Their organization became the first in the city to admit women as full-fledged members.
The two buildings have at least 25 rooms. The rooms, nooks and crannies jam-packed with paintings, sculptures and books seem never-ending to a first-time visitor.
Members, equipped with key cards, can visit the club whenever they want to and use the parlor as their personal sitting room. Or, they can use the library, on the second floor with volumes such as a first-edition of “The Art of Fiction” by Somerset Maugham and a first edition “Thoreau,” a biography by Henry Seidel Canby as their personal reading room.
However, maintaining the building and all the Arts Club programs the past year has been a challenge, Mr. Fritzel says, because of a costly ongoing lawsuit against Kaempfer Co. Investment Builders and Clark Construction. The club contends that the developers caused damage to its buildings while doing construction work down the block.
More public programming was added last year despite the lawsuit, the September 11 terrorist attacks and a vacant arts administrator slot. The programs included lectures by local authors, recitals and workshops.
“I hope to make the public outreach program a more permanent structure,” Mr. Fritzel says. “We want more people to enjoy the club.”
Planned for the new year are talks on black history and the great chefs of the District, as well as poetry and dramatic readings in honor of Irish Arts Month.
The club’s board is expected to select a new arts administrator by the middle of this month. Mr. Fritzel says he hopes the cataloguing of the club’s permanent collection will be improved, but overall he doesn’t expect any major changes in how the permanent collection or temporary exhibits are run.
Another goal for 2002, he says, is to establish a national literary award.

As the nebulous term “arts” indicates, the club promotes everything from visual arts to literature, music and theater.
Two visual artists are featured each month, says Cheryl Kempler, former arts administrator and the club’s caretaker.
“We have about 14 shows a year,” Ms. Kempler says, “and we get more than 100 applications from artists who would like to show their art.”
The club assigns curators from local art museums and galleries to pick out the “winners” from the large number of applicants.
In December, Yoshimi Matsukata of Bethesda exhibited a dozen watercolors labeled “Pears” in the MacFeeley Gallery. “I love the space,” Ms. Matsukata says. “The feel of the Arts Club I find very appealing.”
Her exhibit, which shows pear still lifes, was more about light, shadow and reflection than pears, she says.
“I enjoy the angular light when it hits a still life,” she says.
The MacFeeley Gallery, unlike the other rooms in the house, is sparsely furnished.
The first exhibit of 2002, which started Tuesday, is the membership exhibit, in which members can showcase their art. The show is juried by Robert Stuart Cohen, art professor at Montgomery College.
The club’s permanent collection is full of past and present members’ art. A large portrait of sculptor Henry K. Bush-Brown by his wife, Lydia, the club’s first president, hangs above one of the club’s first-floor fireplaces.
On Jan. 25, the club begins its winter series of Friday noon concerts, which are free and open to the public.

On the third floor, along with a storage room for the permanent collection, the club has two guest rooms, where friends and guests of club members and members of arts clubs in other cities such as the Arts Club of Chicago, the National Arts Club in New York City or the Chelsea Arts Club in London can stay for about $60 a night.
“The guest rooms are very popular,” Mr. Fritzel says. “I would say they’re occupied 80 percent of the time.”
The rooms are decorated a la bed and breakfast rooms with floral-print curtains and sturdy, antique furniture, including a ceiling-high credenza in one of the rooms.
Perhaps the most popular nonmember function held at the club is the wedding reception.
“We do about 30 weddings a year,” says V. Brennan Hurley, general manager and chef. “This year I have June booked solid already. April is filling up, but May still has about three weekends open.”
If weather permits and the courtyard can be used, the club can accommodate 200 people at receptions. If the reception is inside, the club can seat about 120, Mr. Hurley says.
The first-floor parlor often is used for a buffet. The first-floor gallery, which houses a stage and a Steinway grand piano, often serves as the dining area.
“Couples just love this venue. Even without the artwork it would be an easy sell,” Mr. Hurley says, “but the art really puts it over the top.”
As the chef, Mr. Hurley modestly indicates that the food gets high marks, too. His signature dish consists of brie baked in brandy with sun-dried berries and puff pastry combined with an abundant fruit display.
“Some people eat it in pie slices,” Mr. Hurley says.

While expanding the public outreach program to increase the club’s profile publicly, Mr. Fritzel says he also wants to increase the club membership, which is at about 200. A full membership costs $850 a year.
“We just need to grow a little bit we don’t need 1,000 members maybe 350.”
He says he also understands why it may be difficult to increase membership even if the club has a wide array of activities.
“There are so many alternatives in entertainment today,” he says.
For more information on the Arts Club of Washington, call 202/331-7282 or go online at www.artsclubofwashington.com.

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