Gramercy Park Block Association - Neighborhood News #340

Press Conference - The Players - 2pm today 

Players Club Removes Director Amid Turmoil
April 5, 2013

The Players, a 124-year-old private club on Gramercy Park, removed its long-serving executive director this week amid charges of financial mismanagement, several members and employees said on Friday.


The move comes after a scathing internal financial audit and a warning that the club was in imminent danger of closing because of financial losses.


The executive director, John Martello, ran the club for nearly 20 years, during which it endured steady six-figure deficits, seven-figure debts, costly labor disputes and unrest from members. In recent years, the club, which has included Ernest Hemingway and Eugene O'Neill among its members, has stayed afloat by borrowing nearly $2 million from a member and selling its valuable artwork, including two paintings by John Singer Sargent. Members blamed Mr. Martello, saying he failed to charge people for using club rooms for events and instead doled out access to friends and associates.


Mr. Martello did not respond to requests for comment on Friday, but in a March interview with The New York Times he denied all charges against him and said he always acted with board approval.


The club's board and its president, Johnnie Planco, issued a statement on Friday saying that Mr. Martello had resigned and thanking him for his service. Mr. Planco and the club's first vice president, James Fenniman, declined further comment. It was not clear when Mr. Martello's tenure will officially end.


Joseph Canela, the bartender and union shop steward at the club, said that the board's vote to remove Mr. Martello on Wednesday night was unanimous, and that as word began to leak out, "a lot of people felt relieved - they were buying bottles of Champagne."


A member of the financial audit committee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because rules prohibit discussing the club with outsiders, said he felt that the organization might now be saved.


"The feeling is that as long as Martello is gone, there will be an infusion of money, and a return of membership who left," he said. "No one wants to give money while Martello is there."

A version of this article appeared in print on April 6, 2013, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Director of the Players Club Is Removed Amid Turmoil.

April 5, 2013 

A Leader Resigns From Players Club
The cast has changed at the financially troubled Players Club: Executive Director John Martello, who served the club for nearly 20 years, resigned this week, according to a statement issued by the club's board.


The private, theater-centric club at 16 Gramercy Park has been struggling to meet its costs within the last year, according to numerous reports.


A board meeting on Wednesday night was perceived by members and some former members as decisive in determining the club's leadership and future.


The statement about the resignation said nothing about the club's finances. A press conference is planned for Monday.


Mr. Martello didn't respond to multiple requests for comment, nor did members of the Players Club's executive committee.


Members are forbidden from speaking to the press about the club, but bartender Joe Canela, a 10-year employee and union shop steward, said that by Thursday, once word had spread, the mood at the club was celebratory.


"There were a lot of toasts. People were relieved and hugging," he said. "The main thing people were saying was that now they had a chance to get the club back."


A group of members initiated a financial audit committee in October 2011.


Their findings, which were reported to the club at a March 14 meeting, show a once-august institution having trouble paying its bills, raising revenue and maintaining a consistent membership base, which is said to be about 600.


The exit of one leader may enable a change in policies but there are still many financial issues to solve.


Last year, the Players Club's leadership moved to sell a painting by John Singer Sargent to fund repairs to the crumbling facade of its townhouse (which is currently under construction).

According to the organization's audit committee, the painting was ultimately used as collateral on a $250,000 loan at 24% interest.


The club is currently facing a $26,000 penalty for temporary failure to pay its workers' compensation insurance, according to a spokeswoman for the New York State Workers' Compensation Board.


Founded in 1888 by a group that included Mark Twain and the star Shakespearean of his day, Edwin Booth (brother of John Wilkes Booth), the club is located in Booth's former residence.


As for the club's next act, former member Doug Gerbino, who was expelled in 2012 for talking to the press, said: "I hope this is a healing process."


Write to Pia Catton at


A version of this article appeared April 6, 2013, on page A17 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Leader Resigns From Players Club.