Spitzer Enters Players Club-Library Spat

e world-famous Players Club and the Hampden-Booth Theater Library, both of which are headquartered at 16 Gramercy Park, have been disagreeing about financial obligations for some time, but their altercation is increasingly acrimonious and public. The dispute has many of the standard recriminations of any quarrel between roommates-involving allegations of forsaken promises and inequitable financial commingling, for instance-except that in this case, New York State Attorney General Elliott Spitzer is involved.Brad Maione, a spokesperson for Spitzer, told Back Stage in an interview Nov. 20 that Spitzer's involvement does not necessarily signal violations of law. Instead, because both sides are not-for-profit organizations, and Spitzer is constitutionally responsible for regulating such groups, he has entered the fray to establish the extent of their legal commitments to each other and sort out claims and counterclaims that each owes the other money. Edwin Booth founded the Players Club in 1888, a time when polite society did not mingle with mere actors (and Booth was still guilt-ridden over his less-talented brother's assassination of President Lincoln). Booth also founded the library as a completely separate, if affiliated, charitable institution; although it shares the building with the club, and has long shared board members with the club's board, the two have never completely merged. Additionally, the John Drew Fund for indigent actors, which also has offices in the building, has long shared many board members with the other two groups. When the club needed money for renovation of the building, it borrowed $200,000 from the fund, and has lately tried to get the library to contribute toward the repayment of that loan. The library's board members have argued, sometimes among themselves, over whether the library is obligated to make such a contribution in light of prior club promises, most notably to the New York State Board of Regents, to be a kind of patron of the library. As part of filings for the library's charter from the Regents in 1957 and 1963, the Players Club pledged "to underwrite any and all expenses of establishing and maintaining said public library to the extent said expenses are not met by individual contributions."WHERE THERE'S A WILL THERE'S NO WAYNow that the club is pressed for money, it has insisted upon the sale of some of the library's property, including artworks and two folios of Shakespeare's plays. However, Spitzer has not cleared the sale of those assets, saying there is no compelling evidence that the library owes any money, much less all the money the club currently owes the fund. Assistant Attorney General-in-Charge William Josephson sent a five-page letter to the attorneys representing the club and the library Nov. 9, to outline the risks involved in settling the dispute through legal action. "Such litigation could clearly put at risk the rights of the club to occupy the premises at 16 Gramercy Park," he wrote. Another potential impediment to maintaining occupancy lies in Booth's will, which contained conditions that could cause the building to revert to Booth's heirs if the club tries to mortgage it. One possible solution, outlined in Josephson's letter, would stand the current arrangement on its head: if it were carried out, the library would become the owner of the building and the club would become its tenant. That would relieve the building of property taxes to which it is currently subjected, and would make gifts to a building fund tax-deductible.Josephson acknowledged in his letter that there are additional options beyond the one he suggested, but warned that "we are unlikely to support a merger that does not begin with the restoration of the funds inappropriately taken from the charitable entities," meaning the library and the fun