Founded in 1916 "to generate public appreciation for and participation in the arts in the Nation's Capital," the Arts Club of Washington occupies two of Washington's grand old downtown houses -- now surrounded by hotels and office buildings. Built between 1802 and 1806, the Federal-style Monroe House was, like its neighbor and contemporary the Octagon, the temporary home of a U.S. president, in this case James Monroe, who occupied the house for the first six months of his presidency (1817-1825). His inaugural ball was held in the upstairs parlor.
The adjoining MacFeely House, with bay windows that project to the right of the main house, was built in 1870. The Arts Club purchased it in 1929 and soon connected it to the Monroe House. It holds an intimate concert hall on its first floor and, on the second, the Monroe & MacFeely art gallery.
The regal entrance hall and stairwell display pieces from the club's permanent collection of portraits and 19th-century Western art. The house is open to the public. Ring the bell for access to the first-floor Main Gallery, the Monroe & MacFeely Gallery, and another gallery in the basement.
Past exhibits have included abstract watercolors from local artist Diane Szczepaniak, a multi-media exhibition, "Creatures," by local and international artists and a show of steel sculpture by Brian D. Kirk. Works are for sale with prices ranging from $100 to $10,000.
The Arts Club hosts many activities for members and nonmembers. The public is welcome to attend the free literary evenings held once or twice a month, which include author readings and moderated discussions. A recent evening featured author Donald Bogle discussing his biography of motion picture legend Dorothy Dandridge.
Last summer the club hosted a Latino Literary Festival during which 12 authors read and signed their works. On Fridays, from October to June, you can take in a free noon concert featuring classical and jazz music performed on the MacFeely House stage.
The houses and the large courtyard behind them are also available for public rental for weddings, parties or other events. Chef V. Brennan Hurley serves up high-quality catering from the large modern kitchen in the rear of the Monroe House. Evening music performances and weekly dinners are added perks for the club's 200 members.
Membership dues range from $60 to $1,000 per year; voting Resident membership is $600; Junior membership for those under 35 is $300. Aspiring members must fill out an application and then gain approval from the club's board.
-- John Poole