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Art & Archives
The clubhouse of the Algonquin Club of Boston, which opened on November 8, 1888, is rich in history, culture and tradition, as manifested in its architecture, art, furniture and furnishings, as well as its documentary archives.
The clubhouse itself is of a design by McKim, Mead & White, the outstanding American architectural firm of its day and designer of the Boston Public Library, the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial and many public and private structures in New York and other major American metropolises. The six-storey Indiana Limestone building was designed in the Italian Renaissance Palazzo style for the specific purpose of a private social clubhouse and not as a residence, unlike other clubs in Boston whose premises began as private residences. To quote from a report by Historic New England, “To a remarkable extent, the Algonquin Club, by virtue of its function as a private club not subject to the shifting tastes or requirements of a series of private owners, retains a high degree of integrity as to its interior fittings, furnishings and plan . . . .”
Open foyers connecting grand rooms for reading, socializing and dining, a sweeping four-floor central staircase, and prevailing ceiling heights ranging from 12 to 25 feet combine to create a sense of spaciousness and purposefulness befitting the confident era in which the clubhouse was constructed. The ornate and extensive wood millwork and paneling throughout the clubhouse, fireplace hearths in scale with other elements of the structure, alabaster columns and wainscoting in the entry foyer, interior stained and leaded glass windows and myriad other appointments complete a harmonious whole of Victorian vintage. Public rooms and function rooms all have their stories to tell through history, wall and floor coverings, and fine details.
The Algonquin Club’s most characteristic rooms are undoubtedly the Main Dining Room on the fourth floor and the Reading Room on the second floor, each overlooking the Commonwealth Avenue Mall designed by landscape architect Arthur Gilman. The Main Dining Room, resplendent with its four fireplaces, has the interior signature of McKim, Mead & White. Eye-catching features include the massive pewter chandelier manufactured, according to the Club’s opening day coverage in The Boston Globe, in Holland in the 17th Century and the “Royal Box” located above the entrance. The Reading Room, arguably one of the finest drawing rooms not only in the city but anywhere, spans the entire 80-foot interior width of the building and features the original ornate molded plaster ceiling and the also original richly multi-colored floral wallpaper designed to look like embossed leather, as well as imposing fireplaces at each end and ten-foot windows.
The clubhouse holds an extensive collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts and artifacts, notable period furniture, and archival material. Paintings by Tarbell, Cobb, Hinckley, Corrodi, Vining Smith and DeTaille adorn its many walls. The Reading Room holds many oil paintings, including portraits of John Forrester Andrew, the Algonquin Club’s first President, and that of his father, John Albion Andrew, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts during the Civil War and founder of the famous Massachusetts 54th Regiment. Bronze sculptures by Cyrus Edwin Dallin also grace the Reading Room, including “Prayer to the Eternal Spirit”, which can be viewed in full size on the front lawn of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Another focus of the Algonquin Club’s art collection is the Main Dining Room, which makes a fine gallery for the display of exquisite paintings of a smaller scale, consistent with the intimacy of the dining experience.
A striking large-scale painting of President Calvin Coolidge provides a commanding presence in the second floor foyer that connects the Reading Room and the Grill Room, impressive in its own right as a beautifully refurbished and highly functional space containing a casual dining room with pleasing Windsor-style chairs and an elevated Members’ Bar area. The artist, Edmund C. Tarbell, was Dean of the Boston School of Painters in the early 1900s. The Club has four of Tarbell’s paintings. Archival material reveals that Tarbell had been Chairman of the Club’s Art Committee and architect Charles Follen McKim was also a member. There are many portraits of distinguished Governors and Senators of Massachusetts hanging in the clubhouse, including five variations of paintings that hang in the Massachusetts State Capitol building on Beacon Hill.
The Furniture and Furnishings
The clubhouse holds and continues to make use of many of the pieces of furniture from the time of its opening and the early years thereafter. In particular, the Reading Room’s black-leather upholstered reading chairs and sofas are fine and comfortable exemplars of production attributed to the famous A.H. Davenport Company, which also very likely contributed to various aspects of the clubhouse’s interior decoration. Antique desks, including a matched pair of oak partners’ desks, corner chairs and long banquet tables contribute to the room’s period perfection.
Oriental and other decorative arts pieces and artifacts, oriental carpets throughout the public spaces and impressive tapestries in the fourth floor foyer are the grace notes of the whole composition and in and of themselves constitute a significant collection.
The Algonquin Club is also fortunate to have archival material of a documentary nature in excellent condition, which chronicles the Club’s rich history, including Executive Committee minutes from the Club’s inception. This material provides information regarding the organization and naming of the Club, various redesigns and reconfigurations of certain of the interior spaces to meet the evolving needs of the particular times, and events that occurred within the Club during such historical periods as The Great Depression, Prohibition, World War I and World War II, and the periods of social change of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the backgrounds and activities of the Club’s distinguished and fascinating membership spanning 125 years.