Members gave Players big gifts, loans for years
By Sabina Mollot
| Photo by Sabina Mollot
The Players Executive Director John Martello stands in the club's Edwin Booth Room last year while holding a human skull used in performances of "Hamlet."
While it wasn't until a meeting held three weeks ago that many members of The Players in Gramercy Park learned just how saddled with debt the club was, for years, loyal members had still been asked to prop up the place with big loans or gifts whenever there was some sort of financial emergency, and many of those members complied.
The largest known loan made to the club, by board member and former club president Herb Blodgett was for $2 million, which the club is paying back at a rate of 6 percent. Five-figure gifts, meanwhile, have come from other members at different times, usually to take care of repairs on the club building, members are telling Town & Village, and the status of the loan re-payments are unknown to the general membership.
Club treasurer Pam Singleton is said to have lent the club around $100,000. Another member who's since resigned gave the club $60,000 to redo the office. Another club member said to have made a sizable financial contribution is board member Anita Jaffe. Yet another club member, David Paterson, has made numerous infrastructural repairs on the place personally and also would repaint the gold leaf on the club's exterior each year.
Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, raised $200,000 for the club. She also at one point brought in around 200 members, though many of those have since left, she said, due to declining services.
"Our community cares very deeply about The Players and its future, and for years we have been hearing about fiscal mismanagement," said Harrison. "Those who've given money to club I understand don't know what's getting done with that money. They say they need a thousand members, but why would anyone want to join a club that can't pay an electric bill?"
The club's executive director John Martello, who's currently under fire by members who believe the club has been failing because he's mismanaged money and given away event space rentals and memberships, did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Members of the executive committee, who, as T&V reported last week, are also being blamed by some for the fact that the club's in imminent danger of closing, have previously declined to comment on the situation, citing club policy of not speaking to the press.
Several other members and former members, however, said that members have reached a point where they no longer want to keep trying to save the club - that is, not until there's new leadership in place.
"You could throw hundreds of thousands at the club and it would disappear, because it's not well managed," said Clive Burrow, a former member who's behind the watchdog blog Save The Players.
"The club would have closed years ago, but Martello keeps convincing well-meaning people with deep pockets to give loans and gifts," said a current member, who, like others still at the club, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The member also referred to a fundraising campaign that was club-wide and held several years ago in an effort to fund the building's facade repairs.
"Members responded and that was the last anyone heard of it."
At one point, scaffolding was put up around the building but it came down after a few months and facade work only recently resumed again.
Last year, Martello said the controversial sale of the club's Sargent paintings was being done to pay for that project and other repairs.
Another member said that it was members who've come through for even minor repairs like the elevator and replacements of things like kitchen and bar equipment, after being approached by staffers. "The staff would ask because upstairs management ignored it."
It was a member who made repairs to the water-damaged Grill Room, including one time after a recurring leak caused an oversized ceiling panel to come crashing down. No one was hurt in the incident, "but it came down during a dinner."
Despite the club's troubles, Martello has managed to retain the support of most members of the 21-member board. Last week, T&V reported about how certain relationships the board's seven executive committee members had with the club were being seen by some as a conflict of interest, such as the fact that two committee members sell insurance to the club and another employs Martello as a teacher at the New York Film Academy.
"There's all kinds of incest going on," one member told the paper at the time. But the same member said there were a number of former and current members who've pledged to help with the club's outstanding bills if there's a regime change.
Burrow indicated that he'd be one of those members, joking, "I was one of the biggest spenders in the bar."
Martello has said previously that the club's financial problems weren't the result of his giving away memberships or room bookings for what he referred to as events for the enjoyment of members, but the recession.
In the last few years, he said, the club lost a third of its paying members and now has only 500, though it needs 1,000 to stay solvent. Last week he said Broadway producer Gordon Hughes had taken on the task of creating an 18-month financial plan to get The Players back on its feet.
On Wednesday evening, the club held an internal meeting, but it took place after Town & Village's afternoon press time.