Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hiatus Is Set for Leader of Arts Club

National Arts Club Board Sends Its President on "Vacation" Amid Swirl of Bizarre Occurrences

Courtesy AFP/Getty Images
The National Arts Club on Gramercy Park in New York


Published: March 15, 2011

Courtesy AFP/Getty Images
National Arts Club president Aldon James

NEW YORK— Following an emergency board meeting at the National Arts Club on Monday, Aldon James Jr., the eccentric, red-tinted-glasses-sporting bon vivant who has been president of the Gramercy Park institution since the mid-1980s, is set to take a hiatus. The club's vice president — and now acting president — Dianne Bernhard has dubbed his time away from the club a "leave of absence," and a statement from the board calls it a "well-earned vacation." The city's bird population, meanwhile, continues to follow the situation closely.

The announcement of James' time off, reported by the New York Times, comes on the heels of strange stories and rumors that have emerged in the past few weeks concerning the 63-year-old president and his twin brother, John T. James. Last week, the New York Daily News reported that Aldon James may have released a flock of baby finches into to private park across from the club, where many of the birds then perished. While the 63-year-old club president initially denied that he had released the birds — calling the situation an "Agatha Christie mystery" — a breeder tracked down by the News confirmed that he had sold the James some 50 Australian zebra finches the previous week. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is conducting an investigation.

James has also recently been accused by certain members of his board of hoarding a bevy of flea-market finds in the rooms of the historic club — whose early members included Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Daniel Chester French — and of housing his friends and brother in the club's upstairs rooms for below-market rates.

Other recent scandals at the century-old club include the dining room manager's embezzlement of $163,000 in 2002, and a 2003 incident in which John T. James misused the institution's tax-exempt status to buy jewels, which he then flipped for a profit, according to the Times. Earlier this month, the same James brother managed to leave $100,000 in art, jewelry, and cash in a cab. When the taxi driver, Zubiru Jalloh, returned the loot, John T. James decided to host a party at his brother's club in the cabbie's honor — but nobody remembered to invite Jalloh.

"We've had a barrage of newspaper articles, complaints from board members, members, tenants, staff neighbors," Bernhard told the Times. "We had disgruntled employees who were fired, and this last episode of the birds in the park. We felt like there was so much information out there that we didn't know which was fact and which was fiction, and we needed to get to the bottom of it."

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