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Players Club-Library Spat Resolved...Sort of

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After an acrimonious and ongoing dispute between The Players club and the Hampden-Booth Theatre Library, housed in The Players club at Gramercy Park, the battling parties have signed a settlement agreement. Equally important, the resolution also satisfies aspects of an investigation conducted by the New York State Attorney General's office since December of 1996.

The thrust of the dispute centered on financial obligations. Here's the background: in 1888 Edwin Booth founded The Players club so that actors--who were viewed as sub-human by white-glove culture--could comfortably mingle with fellow performers, as well as members from other professions in a relaxed social setting. Booth also founded the library in the same mansion at 16 Gramercy Park as a separate, albeit affiliated, charitable institution. Although the two entities have never fully merged, they have shared board members for decades.

Enter another entity: the John Drew Fund for indigent actors, which also has offices in The Players club and shares many board members with the other two groups. When the club needed money for the renovation of the building, it borrowed $200,000 from the fund and tried to get the library to contribute toward the repayment of that loan.

Members of the library, however, did not feel obligated to make any such contribution, in light of prior club promises, pledging to underwrite all library expenses, not underwritten by individual contributions. The big problem is that the club has operated at a deficit since the late 80s. The Players are currently in the hole--including back taxes and monies owed the John Drew Fund--for over $1 million.

The resolution, which is quite complex, essentially stipulates that neither entity--the library or the club--owes the other any money. Nonetheless, it has been agreed that once the Library is on a sounder financial footing, it will begin to pay its fair share of overhead expenses, effective May 1, 2002.

In order for this contract to take effect, The Players have agreed to sell their John Singer Sargent portrait of Edwin Booth. Clearly, no one is happy with that prospect, although there is the hope that buyers might consider leaving the famous painting where it is on a permanent loan basis.

Regardless, according to the Attorney General's office, The Players club has to get its financial affairs resolved--it's the first order of business--without jeopardizing the library's economic status. Indeed, the agreement demands that the library receive one third of the net proceeds up to a ceiling of $500,000.

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