Friars Club’s Possible Demise Threatens Industry, National Realty Club Tradition
Jotham Sederstrom Oct. 25, 2011, 9:18 a.m.
The Friars Club, once a den of Borscht Belt comedians, is more than the site of legendary comedy roasts—it’s home to the National Realty Club’s fortnightly real estate industry events. But now the club, at 57 East 55th Street, could be tied to the proverbial train tracks thanks to the Long Island Rail Road’s Eastside access project.
Planned construction for a ventilation building on East 55th Street, between Madison and Park avenues, will not only disrupt traffic (while also creating noise, dirt and dust), but potentially threaten the 100-year old building’s structural fortitude, said Friars Club lawyers.
“We are very concerned about the safety of the structure, and with being able to do business there,” said Sid Davidoff, partner at Davidoff, Malito and Hutcher LLP.
Mr. Davidoff said the club and the MTA have been in talks over how the construction will affect his client since July. The MTA claims the extension of the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central will shave 40 minutes off tens of thousands of straphangers’ commutes when all is said and done.
The National Realty Club, a 65-year old organization, has had to move before—its last venue, the Williams Club, shuttered two years ago and sent its alumni to dine at the Princeton Club. Membership chairman Adam Marsh said that they’ve already begun to research new options, but that the Friars Club will be hard to replace.
“People love it,” said Mr. Marsh. “Our main concern is the excessive noise. It will be hard to have the lunch that we do.”
The Club has only been at the Friars Club for two years. He added that many real estate owners are members of the Friars Club.
“Senior management kept us out of the loop about what was going on,” said Mr. Marsh. “So you can imagine our concern.”
The five-floor townhouse where real estate figures from Billy Macklowe to Darcy Stacom have helmed luncheons, is not only old and storied, it retains many of its original stained-glass windows, which were imported from Europe, and has many delicate fixtures, according to the lawyers.
Davidoff, Malito and Hutcher has retained an undisclosed engineering firm to study the structural viability of the English Renaissance-style townhouse. They will share data with the MTA, Mr. Davidoff said.
What’s the alternative to construction on the historic site? Anywhere else on the eastside that already has construction going on, said Mr. Davidoff. “They should consider those locations, and have much less impact on this thoroughfare,” he said of East 55th Street.
Meanwhile, the MTA said that the construction is not especially threatening to the building. “As we always do, in all of our large construction projects, we will closely monitor the building to ensure that it is not damaged,” said Aaron Donovan, a spokesperson for the MTA.—Guelda Voien