Most valuable players: A peek inside a members-only Gramercy Park institution
On a recent blustery, cold morning, some two dozen people, young and old, assembled in a basement bar.
This wasn’t the start of an illicit all-day bender — we were seizing a rare opportunity to take a peek inside the Players, a private Gramercy Park club with well-known actors and businesspeople among its members. The day’s event was organized by Atlas Obscura, which aims “to get people into places they may not normally get into, or know about,” said co-founder Dylan Thuras.
Visiting the Players is a little “like going to your grandmother’s attic,” said our tour guide, member Scott Glascock.
The Players was founded in 1888 by the country’s most famous dramatic actor, Edwin Booth — the older brother of Lincoln-assassinator John Wilkes Booth. (Edwin Booth later wrote the nation a moving letter of apology; a copy is on display at the club’s third-floor library.)
Back then, actors were considered “scallywags and roustabouts,” said Glascock. But Booth, returning from London, was inspired by the Garrick Club, where theater folk mingled with writers, judges and nobility.
Booth got together with some buddies — including Mark Twain and Stanford White — and created the Players. He bought the townhome at 16 Gramercy Park South for $75,000 and White, the starchitect of his era, renovated the building.
Our tour began in the lower-level bar, The Grill (“the holy of the holies,” said Glascock), with dark parquet floors and rustic wood communal tables. Red walls provide the background for the dozens of portraits that make up the “Players Hall of Fame,” like Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Fallon. (Other Players, past and present: Clark Gable, Angela Lansbury, Walt Disney, Morgan Freeman and Fiorello LaGuardia.)
We weren’t able to view the second floor that day, but the fourth floor is what most came to see: Edwin Booth’s private quarters, left virtually unchanged since the day of his death in 1893. The bed is where Booth died; his worn slippers lie on the floor and a portrait of his infamous brother hangs on the wall.
The Players’ colorful history has been touched recently by debt. To raise funds, they sold some John Singer Sargent paintings and, last year, the president told DNAinfo that as “an end-of-the-world possibility” the Players would have to sell its building (with an estimated value of more than $14 million).
Things are brighter now, Glascock insists. The club is looking to grow its membership; the building’s façade reconstruction should be completed in the spring. “It’s a challenge, the Great Recession; it’s a challenge to all clubs,” he said. “But we’re coming back.” — Lisa Keys
Average January rents
1 bed $4,341
2 beds $7,657
3 beds $12,615
> 3 beds $23,000[/column]
Average January sale price
1 bed $1,038,832
2 beds $2,270,625
3 beds $4,833,508
>3 beds N/A[/column]