Discover the History of The Chatwal, New York City
Before becoming The Chatwal, New York, the iconic Stanford White-designed building was the epicenter of American theater during the 20th century. It opened in 1905 as the home of the prestigious Lambs, the country’s first professional theatrical club. Organized in 1874 by a group of actors and theatre enthusiasts, the Lambs occupied a series of rented quarters before settling at 44th Street. The club took its moniker from a similar group in London, which flourished from 1869 to 1879 and was named for British drama critic and essayist Charles Lamb.
Stanford White, a partner at prominent architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White, was the original architect of the Lambs clubhouse. His design principles embodied the “American Renaissance,” as seen in his work on summer homes for the Astor and Vanderbilt families and such formidable structures as The Washington Square Arch, Madison Square Garden, and the New York Herald Building. For the Lambs, he designed a six-story, neo-Georgian brick building featuring a façade ornamented with six ram heads and two ram profiles. On the first floor were the lobby with a bank of telephones, a grill room and billiard room; on the second floor a banquet hall; on the third floor a small theater. The top floors contained offices and sleeping quarters for members. An addition in 1915 doubled the size of the building. In 1974, it was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks And Preservation Commission.
Since the club’s founding, there have been more than 6,000 Lambs, with an elite roster reading like a Who’s Who of American Theatre: Maurice, Lionel, and John Barrymore, Red Barberv, George Michael Cohan, John Wayne, Douglas Fairbanks, and Fred Astaire (who famously stated, “When I was made a Lamb, I felt I had been knighted”). The luminaries who have graced The Chatwal, New York halls would make Broadway and Hollywood history. Some, such as the dashing John Barrymore, even lived in the dormitory quarters for short periods.
Stanford White was an extrovert with a penchant for beautiful women. He was notorious for hosting scandalous, champagne- soaked parties. His apartment on the second floor at Madison Square Garden was infamous for its red swing hanging from the ceiling and often occupied by one of his many girlfriends. One such woman was a 17-year-old beauty named Evelyn Nesbit. White had a secret love affair with Nesbit, ending when his wandering eye led him astray. Nesbit went on to a brief affair with Jack Barrymore before marrying millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw. After learning of Nesbit’s tempestuous history with White, Thaw sought out and fatally shot the architect during a show at Madison Square Garden. Thaw was found guilty of murder by reason of insanity, a landmark case in American jurisprudence as the first time a defense attorney invoked the plea of temporary insanity and won.