For years, Washington's wealthy and powerful, both officials and non-officials, have flocked to social events at an elegant little club located behind a deceptively modest green wood facade at 1530 Wisconsin Ave. in Georgetown.
It has been in the society pages for more than a decade, getting its first taste of major national publicity in 1966 when Patrick Nugent's parents chose it for the dinner following Luci Johnson's wedding rehearsal.
Yesterday, in the wake of a federal grand jury indictment of the Georgetown Club's founder, it appeared there may have been a darker side to some to the excitement and social sparkle that the club generated.
The indictment stated that the club was a primary "means" used by South Korean businessman Tongsun Park and others in alleged efforts to corrupt U.S. politicians and officials.
Park set up and operated the club, according to the indictment, "for the purpose of holding fund-raising affairs and parties for various United States congressmen, senators, and other United States government officials, which affairs and parties would, on occasion, he paid for by the defendant Tongsun Park."
The indictment went on to say that the club was also utilized "for the entertainment of influential United States politicians and for the introduction to U.S. officials of influential Korean officials visiting in United States."
As on "overt act" of the alleged conspiracy to illegally influence politicians, according to the indictment, Park forgave the $1,700 cost of a fundraising dinner held at the club May 17, 1972 for Rep. John Brademas of Indiana.
Another time, according to the indictment, - on Sept. 23, 1974 - Park gave Prademas $2,950 in cash to cover the costs of a fund-raising reception for the congressman at the club.
The front door of the club remained locked yesterday for the last day of summer vacation. Assistant manager John Overall, answering a tap of the shiny brass knob last evening, said the club will be open for business again today.
Overall said he doubted that business will be adversely affected by the indictment, and Ken Cummins of Potomac News Syndicate, a journalist who has been reporting on the club's affairs, said that an initiation of 35 new club members is going forward as planned later this week.
Yesterday was not the first time that the club has been in the news in connection with investigations of Park's activities.
In June of this year ex-Korean CIA director Kim Hyung Wook told a congressional subcommittee that he let Park use $3 million in South Korean government funds in 1967 to finance the club as a way of gaining access to and influencing U.S. officials.
Kim testified that Park requested the financial aid in 1967 through a KCIA agent at the South Korean embassy in Washington. Kim said he then ordered the Korean Exchange Bank to transfer the $3 million to an American bank where Park used it as collateral for the loans he needed to fund the club's operation.
Sources familiar with the case have thrown doubt on Kim's version of the exact details of these transactions. According to the sources, Park did not directly use the $3 million as collateral for a mortagage loan and other loans for the club, but used his access to this money as a means of impressing others with his wealth and power in order to get them to lend him money or put up collateral for him.
Park, who left the U.S. for London last fall, is still owner of record of the club, although it is possible that he has sold the club to someone else by this time without any official records having been made of the transaction according to sources.
Park sponsored many lavish parties at the club over the years. Guests included such prominent politicians as then-House Speaker Carl Albert (D-Okla.), then-Majority Leader Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neil Jr. (D-Mass.), scores of other representatives and senators, and administration leaders such as former Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird, Attorney General William B. Saxbe and then-Vice President Gerals R. Ford.
Potomac News Syndicate writer Cummins, who has also been a special correspondent for The Washington Post, provided this colourful picture of a typical Park party at the club:
The invitations read unloading partygoers shortly before. The guests mingled in the "living room" on the ground floor of the club, waiting for the host, Tongsun Park, to arrive.
Club manager Norm Larsen, in the absence of the host, warmly greeted each arrival while busily seeing to it that the waiters kept every glass filed. Several elegantly dressed women, adorned in the grande dame fashion long out of style, clustered along the east wall admiring the 17th century English wall paneling and the host's Oriental antique jade and pottery collections. Others sat in the Korean brocaded sofas . . .
The press was always invited to these parties, too. Society reporters from the "Post" and the "Star" were mingling with the partygoers . . .
Some visiting Arabs roamed through the jammed room, the guests of some member or other. The party was mostly white, peppered here and there by a few African nation ambassadors. Along the walls and apart from the others stood some Koreans who either worked for the host or the embassy. The mixture of nationalities gave the affair the atmosphere of an embassy party.
It was past 8:15 when the host, Tongsun Park, arrived and proceeded to affectionately greet each guest by name . . .
After another half hour of drinking the partygoers moved upstairs to dinner. Candlelight flickered across the English pewter, Sheffield silver and crystal goblets, and cast moving shadows on the darkwood wall paneling as the guests seated themselves.
The dinner was elaborate formal French: appetizer followed by lobster in garlic butter served with white wine; steak au Poivre with red wine; a salad and the right cheeses. Then the tables were cleared and champagne poured before the desert course.
Always after the champagne, Park would rise to warmly toast everyone in attendance.