Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Harvard Club of New York

"The name or title by which the society or Club into which we desire to form ourselves as afore said shall be known in law, shall be the HARVARD CLUB OF NEW YORK CITY".

"The particular business and object of such society or club shall be to promote social intercourse among ourselves and others, our associates and successors, who are to be persons who have been connected with Harvard University as students or instructors, or who have received honorary degrees therefrom, and for that purpose to establish and maintain in the City and County of New York, for the use of ourselves and such others above mentioned, a club house, having a library, a reading room, a gallery of art, and such other appurtenances and belongings as are usual in clubs and club houses." From the Certificate of Incorporation, April 16, 1887

Harvard Club of New York (official website)

The Harvard Club of New York is a private club in Midtown Manhattan, New York, New York, USA. Anyone who has attended Harvard University may apply to become a member. Incorporated in 1887, it is housed in adjoining lots at 27 West 44th Street and 35 West 44th Street. The original wing, built in 1894, was designed in red brick neo-Georgian style by Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White.

Originally founded without a location, the club first rented a townhouse on 22nd street. In 1888, land was acquired by the members on 44th street. The clubhouse was established in the neighborhood where many of New York City's other clubs such as the New York Yacht Club were located, and across the street from the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York.

The club publishes a Bulletin and a Newsletter. The HCNY Foundation has a scholarship fund that helps support twenty undergraduates at Harvard College and several students in graduate programs, as well as international student exchange programs.

The club's facilities include a bar, several dining rooms, game rooms, a library, an athletic facility, a business center and offers rooms for visiting alumni.

In the beginning, of course, was the Club, and just the Club; it had no permanent physical location. The first meeting was held at the Mercantile Library Building on Astor Place, and four members attended. As membership grew, the Club needed a larger meeting space. Usually, members made do with a private dining room at a restaurant; the famous Delmonico's was a frequent choice. Membership grew to 16 by the end of 1865 - large enough to incorporate. The Club began renting a room over another restaurant at 835 Broadway for its monthly meetings, but Delmonico's was still used on occasion. Through mid-1887, this arrangement – the Club owning its space one night at a time – seemed sufficient.

Membership continued to grow. By July 1886, it had risen to 431. While the Harvard Club's meetings were held in the "Club District," it still did not have its own clubhouse, as most of the others did. Many members were young, single men living on their own in New York, away from their families. A club that could offer lodgings seemed like an attractive substitute for hearth and home. And so, in early 1887, the Club signed a lease on a four-story brownstone residence at 11 West 22 Street and converted it into a clubhouse with 10 bedrooms, a restaurant, and other clubrooms where members could read periodicals, smoke, and chat.

The Clubhouse was an instant success. By 1888, membership jumped to 531, an amazing 25 percent increase in just one year. However, with an annual rent of $6,000, the cost of housing was steep. Dues for resident members doubled to $20 per year. Strong sentiment arose for owning a property rather than paying rent. Alas, the Club had few resources with which to acquire property. Around this time, many other clubs were moving uptown to 43rd and 44th Streets. An anonymous member challenged the Harvard Club to raise money from its members in order to purchase a property at 27 West 44th Street. If the Club would try, he said, he would guarantee the results. The challenge was accepted and former Club President Joseph H. Choate was named head of a Building Committee.

The Committee chose popular architect Charles F. McKim of McKim, Mead, and White (who also designed Washington Arch and New York's Pennsylvania Station, among others) for the project. Because Choate and other members preferred a traditional style, McKim was directed to model the facade on a house in Stratford-on-Avon, England once occupied by John Harvard's mother. But McKim ignored the direction, presenting a facade in the Neo-Georgian style. McKim favored Neo-Georgian for several reasons; he had won prizes for designs in that style, he had used it in designs for other clubhouses, and Neo-Georgian was very popular at the time. His final reason persuaded Club membership to accept the more modern style; it was reminiscent of many Harvard buildings that had been built in the Georgian style.

And so, in 1894, the Harvard Club had the small clubhouse designed by McKim constructed on the recently acquired property at 27 and 29 West 44th Street. This area of town was quickly becoming a center for clubhouses. In just a few years, the New York Yacht Club, the Century Club, The Yale Club and others were also built in the neighborhood. The Harvard Clubhouse was small compared to its neighbors, filling only the front half of the two 25-by-100-foot lots. A three-story Neo-Georgian structure, it included a kitchen in the cellar, a dining room on the first floor, and meeting rooms on the second and third floors.

At the time Harvard House (as the new clubhouse was called) was being constructed, members of the Club bought land at 31 West 44th Street and 26-36 West 45th Street with the express purpose of holding it for future Harvard Club expansion. The lots would then be transferred to the Club at cost. The members also tried to purchase 33 and 35 West 44th Street, but were unsuccessful at that time. The land speculation proved to be prescient. Less than 10 years after opening, Harvard House was already too small for the burgeoning membership and, in 1905, the first addition was built. It included the magnificent Harvard Hall.

Many architectural observers consider Harvard Hall to be the finest clubroom in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world. With its three-story high ceiling and rich, dark paneling, it is truly a special place. Besides Harvard Hall, the 1905 addition also contained a Grill Room, a new Library, a meeting room, a billiard room, and two floors of bedrooms. The new structure extended the original building an additional 150 feet to 45th Street, but did not increase the width of Harvard House. The dining room was moved from the entrance hall into both Harvard Hall and the Grill Room. With the additional space in the public rooms and the opening of bedrooms for overnight stays, Harvard House had finally become a Club that could stand with any in the city. As a result, the Club attracted more and more members.

Ten years later Charles McKim was at it again, adding a seven-story tower in 1915. The tower was 60 feet wide at the rear (45th Street) facade, but only 25 feet wide at the front. Although the Club had wanted a 50-foot-wide addition, it was unable to strike an agreement to acquire 33 West 44th Street; so the smaller building was constructed. It added a bar, a magnificent formal dining room, additional banquet rooms, additional bedrooms, squash courts, and a swimming pool – the Plunge – on the seventh floor. The Clubhouse also added a few modern conveniences. Elevators were installed along with a boiler for steam heat. Previously, the Clubhouse had been heated with fireplaces.

Club membership kept growing. Ten years later, in 1925, the Clubhouse was in need of expansion yet again. However, the Club had no land on which to build. Negotiations for the adjacent property at 33 West 44th Street were reinstated and continued for the next six years. But by the time the property was finally transferred to the Club, the Great Depression had begun. The Club had to tighten its belt. Then came World War II and material shortages; dreams of expansion were tabled for the duration. But while the Clubhouse was stuck at its 1915 size, membership was not. During World War II, the demand for bedrooms was so great, the Club sacrificed the Plunge, flooring over the pool to create dormitory space where members could rent a cot for the night.

After the war, veterans, taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, began to flood Harvard and other universities. The Club realized that membership would continue to grow. Yet there were still several problems to be solved. The Club did not have a large budget for expansion. On the other hand, it did own the adjacent property at 33 West 44th Street, purchased in 1931. It was thought that it might be possible to expand the Clubhouse into the adjacent building at a relatively low cost. Alas, with the exception of the first floor, the floors of the five-story structure were not aligned with those of the Clubhouse. Worse, the top three floors were constructed of combustible materials and legally could not be used for clubrooms. The solution: tear down the three upper floors and remodel the lower two. The facade of the building was remodeled by a little-known architect who was a member of the Club. The design of the facade, a conscious effort to imitate McKim's Neo-Georgian style, is generally conceded to be uninspired and unsucessful. The two floors of the small building provided a few additional facilities – some staff offices, an extension to the Ladies' Dining Room (now the Cambridge Rooms), a men's restroom, and the present Main Bar.

Today, the Clubhouse remains on West 44th Street, while membership continues to grow. One of the first buildings to be named a New York City Landmark because of its architectural beauty and history, the Harvard Club is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Harvard Club of New York (official website)

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