Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lambs Club of New York City

By Clay Meredith Greene

Lambs Club quarters at 848 Broadway
During the Christmas week of 1874 a little coterie of souls congenial and temperaments analogous foregathered at the Delmonico's of the time, to dispatch a midnight repast at the bidding of George H. McLean. Long after the streets had grown silent under the mantle of an in­cipient dawn, the feasters tarried, and thought not of sleep.

There is an inde­finable something, almost akin to magic, which breeds rebellion against the edicts of the hours in such a gathering. The host eloquently voiced a deep regret that the night and its  entertainment must have their ending; that such a company, where actor and author, manager and bank­er, painter and poet, could sit in com­plete social har­mony, must soon tread its several' pathways in direc­tions that had no common trend, to vanish among the shadows of the un­known future.

But before he had finished, fruitful suggestion deferred the dissolution of the gathering. It was pointed out that future regrets of the same nature might be permanently avoided by organization. This was at once affected, and Henry J. Montague—at that time leading man of Wallack's Theater—was chosen as pre­siding officer. Being asked to name the new organization, Mr. Montague called it "The Lambs" after a dining-club in London of which he was a member; and it was decided that the bantling should preserve the same customs and purposes as its parent.

At a subsequent meeting, held early in the January of 1876, the following officers were elected: Shepherd, Henry J. Montague;  Boy, Harry Beckett; Cor­responding Secretary, George H. McLean; Treasurer, John E. I. Granger; Recording Secre­tary, Arthur Wal­lack.

For some time the Lambs met only at monthly dinners in the various hostel­ries surrounding Union Square, but these gatherings soon became so pop­ular, and the roster of membership so large, that in 1877 the society became a corporation under the laws of the State, and began to record its achieve­ments on the pages of metropolitan Club history.

On this page there is a picture of the club quarters of 1876, at 848 Broad­way, over a saloon next door to Wallack's Theater—the old Wallack's at Thirteenth Street and Broadway. The accommodations of this place, however, proved so inadequate, as indeed did every attempt at the one-room club idea, that annually the Lambs folded their tents and stole away to some other convenient spot, equally confined, until 1880, when they rented the entire house at 34 West Twenty-Sixth Street. Here began what must be called the true history of The Lambs as a club proper, with all of the accommodations furnished, in greater or less degree, by other clubs.

Here, too, began what must remain in the memories of those who fought it as the most heroic battle against adversity that it or any similar organization has ever known. The club succeeded, and yet it failed; it prospered, and yet it lan­guished; its dinners became the definitive unit of functions of that nature, as did its ledgers the glaring proofs of a too prodigal liberality.


The best-known actors, litterateurs, bon vivants, wits, and orators of their time were either its members or its guests. Among them may be mentioned Edwin Booth, John McCullough, Mark Twain, Lester Wallack, Daniel Dough­erty, Steele Mackaye, Charles A. Dana, Charles R. Thorne, Robert Ingersoll, William J. Florence, John R. Brady, John R. Fellowes, Tom Ochiltree, and Dion Boucicault. All who came beneath its roof were safe from notoriety or pub­lic criticism. The Lambs have never ad­mitted a journalist to their gatherings, except under the distinct agreement not to mention any of their doings in the public prints.

Grill Room in the Lambs’ new fold
On one occasion Charles A. Dana, John R. Fellowes, and John A. Cockerill —all dead now—sat together at a dinner given to Henry Irving. From these re­doubtable antagonists a fine display of mutual vituperation was expected, and the expectation was not disappointed. Colonel Fellowes was called upon first, and began:

"Shepherd Wallack, guest of the eve­ning Irving, and gentlemen—I thank God that for the first time in my life I am in a gathering where whatever may be in my mind to express will not be garbled, distorted, and destroyed in the newspapers. Mr. Cockerill and Mr. Dana are both publishers, but as gentlemen they cannot, they dare not, violate the sanctity of the rule that guarantees to all speakers within these walls immunity from public comment."

What followed may well be imagined. Fellowes flayed Cockerill with his wonderful powers of invective; Cock­erill showered on Fellowes stinging blows of eloquent sarcasm, and then turned his stream of venom upon Dana. The veteran of the Sun re­torted in kind, amid wild cheers and applause, until the allotted time had ex­pired, when the Shepherd de­clared the contest a draw.

But these functions were expensive, and even through the administrations of such capable Shepherds as Harry Beckett, Lester Wallack, William J. Florence, John R. Brady, and E. M. Hol­land, the club's debts steadily accumulated. As bankruptcy became more and more cer­tain, the personal liability of responsible members was avoided by numerous resignations. By 1891 it had be­come impossible to secure a meeting of the council for the purpose of nominating officers, and an obscure member of the club, Paul Arthur by name, himself placed a ticket on the bulletin-board, nominating the writer as Shepherd; Augustus Thomas, Boy; Thomas B. Clarke, Corre­sponding Secretary; John A. Stow, Treasurer; Fritz Williams, Re­cording Secretary; and a council consist­ing of Clarence L. Collins, Samuel Ban­croft, Jr., Thomas Manning, Norman F. Cross, Charles W. Thomas, Charles Froh­man, and himself.


To these men, share and share alike, must be given the credit for the work that lifted the society from bankruptcy to affluence, from a position of social decadence to one that ranks it high among the unique and unconventional clubs of the world.

One of their number drew the check that prevented service of a sheriff's writ. A meeting was called, and subscriptions obtained for the purpose of paying the most pressing debts. A public entertain­ment was given, and with the proceeds settlement was made with the creditors on the basis of thirty-three and one-third per cent. Then, with three hundred dollars in its treasury, the club moved to more economical quarters on West Twenty-Ninth Street.

Lambs Club House at
130 West 44
th Street
Then came the wave of prosperity which from that moment has not for one day receded, save to return freighted with greater promise. Within a year a larger house became necessary, and this was secured at 26 West Thirty-First Street; the old debts, though legally released, were paid off in full; and the Lambs' Gambols, at which original plays written and acted by members were pro­duced, became town and country talk. The legal limit of membership being nearly reached, in 1897 property was purchased at 70 West Thirty-Sixth Street, and a club-house of the society's own was erected.

In the next year the mortgage of thirty-six thousand dollars was cleared by what became known as "the Lambs' Star Gambol," an entertainment in which all the prominent dramatic and operatic stars of the club participated, and which, in eight cities of the country, played in a single week to the enormous sum of sixty-seven thousand dollars.


During the administrations of Thomas B. Clarke and De Wolf Hopper the membership continued to increase. The limit was raised by one hundred and fifty, but still there was a long waiting-list of applicants for admission who could not be accommodated. Under these condi­tions, Shepherd Hopper called a general meeting for the purpose of securing an appropriation to erect a permanent home that would meet all the requirements, both material and artistic, of an organ­ization that had rapidly and completely outgrown its surroundings. The pro­posal met with unanimous endorsement, and when Mr. Hopper surrendered his crook to the present incumbent he clothed him and his council with the authority to spend three hundred thousand dollars for a permanent fold.

This is now nearing completion at 130 West Forty-Fourth Street. The archi­tects, McKim, Mead & White, say that of thirty-three club-houses they have created, that of the Lambs will be the most novel, artistic, and complete. The building, with its facade of brick, terra­cotta, and marble, is an imposing combi­nation of the Colonial and Renaissance schools. It occupies two city lots, and is six stories high, with basement, cellar, and sub-cellar. Passing through the marbled vestibule into a capacious corri­dor, containing offices, guest-chamber, letter-boxes, and telephone booths, one is immediately struck with the prevailing air of space, convenience, and comfort. Beyond is the grill-room, a hall thirty-four feet square, in dark woods, with red tiled floor, and an enormous fireplace, and a carved stone mantelpiece from a medieval Italian palace. Behind this are the billiard-room and bar, which are similar in general appearance and deco­ration to the grill-room. The second floor is devoted to the dining-rooms and 'lounging rooms, richly decorated in white, red, and gold, with furniture of mahogany, and capable of expansion, by the removal of partitions, into one great banquet hall twenty-five by ninety feet in size.

On the third floor, in front, is the library, with shelves, paneling, and rafters of dark oak, relieved by colorings of green in carpets and drapery. Behind this is the theater, the main feature of the club, where the gambols, which have been so potent an agent in securing its success, may be produced with as much perfection of detail as can be secured in any public playhouse. As an example of the enthusiasm of the membership, it is worth recording that this room has been completed in all of its features—scenery, draperies, seats, and decoration, besides a grand piano and a large pipe organ—by a special voluntary subscription, and that the subscribers insisted that no reason­able expense should be spared.

Below the gallery, the room is paneled in dark oak, and gallery front and pro­scenium .are of the same material with appropriate carvings, and lightly lined with gold. Above the gallery the walls are to be decorated with mural paintings by a committee of which Robert Reid is chairman, and the ceiling work will be designed and executed by James F. Finn. Draperies and carpets are of a green shade in harmony with the woodwork, and at the back of the room is placed the organ, which is operated by motors hid­den in the sub-cellar.

The remaining floors of the club­house are devoted to living-rooms, sumptuously furnished, and supplied with every convenience known to the builder's art.


Early in July the informal opening will take place. On that occasion no one who is not a member may be informed as to the ceremonies that take place. More than ever before will the Lambs be jealous of what they say to one another, because they believe that sentiment is not for ears to friendship un-attuned. But in the early fall the first gambol and banquet will be given, where he who is friend to the Lamb may feast with him, laugh with him, and pledge with him success to the continuance of that spirit of social democracy which has been his shibboleth through all his struggles.

Handsomely decorated theater
 in which club gambols are to be given
This spirit was most aptly expressed by one of the characters in a play at a re­cent gambol.

"A democracy that knows no distinc­tion between star and support, banker and bookkeeper, the captain of a man-of-war and the youngster from the steerage. Friendship is friendship whether it be clothed in broadcloth or flannel; Bohemia is Bohemia alike on floors of deal or of marble; and the good Lamb is a Lamb be he in rented lodging-house or in palace all his own."

These, in short, are the principles on which the foundation-stone of this merry convocation of convivial spirits was laid, and it has grown, course by course of friendship's solid masonry, without cliques or politics, until it now stands an enduring monument to the sentiments that inspired the little coterie down in Fourteenth Street thirty years ago.

From Munsey’s Magazine –  July 1905.

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