Secret Club - Who are the current members?
My Alibi? They Wouldn't Answer Answer Man
I was wondering if you have any information on the building at 1806 I St. NW. It is obviously a pre-Civil War building and the only remaining such structure on the block. It has a small plaque on the front that says "Alibi Club." It has (old) curtains in the windows, and I have never seen anyone entering or leaving. It is just a very strange anomaly in an area of new office buildings and obviously taxes continue to be paid on it and, I assume, a minimum amount of maintenance. Any ideas?
-- Mike Duffy, Rockville
Answer Man paid a visit to the Alibi Club on Friday. He walked up the metal steps and, finding the outer door open, ascended to a small vestibule and confronted a locked green door. What, he wondered, was behind the green door?
Answer Man buzzed the intercom, introduced himself and said: "I wondered if I could talk to someone about the Alibi Club."
"Sorry, no," came the answer.
If Answer Man was any kind of investigator he would have disguised himself as a deliveryman or a meter reader and bluffed his way inside. Alas, he is bound by the ethical code of the reporter, and so he made more legal enquiries. That meant talking to the neighbors and reading through the clips.
"If you wait outside you can see people you've seen on TV," said George Ramakis, proprietor of City Watchmaker next door.
George has seen them entering the Alibi Club: congressmen, senators, Secret Service agents, too, accompanying the occasional presidential visitor. A pretty high-powered crowd for what looks like a flophouse.
What is the Alibi Club, anyway? Well, it's a club. Whether it is a gentlemen-only club Answer Man cannot say. It certainly was founded as such, in 1884, by seven disaffected members of the Metropolitan Club.
The building has always looked shabby from the outside. In 1896, The Post reported that members preferred it that way: "There is enough to interest one inside."
Before discussing what is inside, Answer Man will discuss who is inside. The Alibi Club has the reputation of being one of the most secretive clubs in town (although Answer Man thinks a truly secretive club would be one no one had ever heard of). Membership is apparently limited to exactly 50, a new member being admitted upon the death of an old one.
These deaths occasion a rare mention of the Alibi Club in the newspaper. Obituaries note membership. These obituaries tend not to be of deliverymen or meter readers, but of law firm partners, ambassadors, heads of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Federal Reserve Board chairmen, that sort of thing.
George H.W. Bush is reportedly a member, as was his father. CIA directors Allen W. Dulles and Richard Helms were members, as was Smithsonian secretary S. Dillon Ripley. Alan Greenspan had lunch there on his 75th birthday.
"The only qualification for membership is that a man be well known to all of the members," Adm. Jerauld Wright told a Post reporter in 1975. "A new member must be approved by all of the existing members."
Wright -- former commander of the Atlantic fleet, head of NATO and ambassador to Taiwan -- said he had never thought of the club as "a gathering place for prominent or influential people."
In 1992, The Post's Sarah Booth Conroy took a rare tour of the mid-19th-century building, which in 1994 was put on the National Register of Historic Places. She described what sounded like a clubhouse for overgrown boys, encrusted with objects that might be considered tacky if they hadn't been donated by, say, a Supreme Court justice. The first-floor dining room resembles a 16th-century tavern, with dark wood paneling, heavy beams and a massive table set with pewter plates. One room is decorated with Japanese scrolls. Another has walls covered in portraits of members.
Of course it may all have been recently redecorated in Ikea modern, but Answer Man somehow doubts it.
Many questions remain: Are there any female members? Is President Obama a member? Is there a secret underground tunnel connecting the Alibi Club to the White House, the Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol? Can Answer Man join?
Unless things have changed, the club is only open on Fridays, except when a member books it for a private event. If you're not doing anything this Friday at lunchtime, hang around outside and see who goes in. It's the Washington version of L.A.'s Viper Room.Have a question about the Washington area?
A former CIA analyst, Francine Mathews is an expert authority on international intrigue. The Alibi Club is a gripping work of historical fiction that’s rife with murder and debauchery
"Convivial men the world over find pleasure and recreation in association with others like minded," wrote the founders of the Alibi Club, in their 1884 charter establishing a gentlemen's club "to relieve the mind of what some call the monotony of domestic life and the routine and toil of business."
The National Register of Historic Places describes the club's function differently: "providing its members with an alibi when their whereabouts was questioned by wives and family."
Such a refuge, in an unassuming West End townhouse that had no phone line in its early decades and then no listed number, has been sought by dozens of the most powerful figures in political and military history for 116 years. By club tradition, the doorkeeper has always provided an alibi for any member being delivered a telegram or courier's message.
The club was founded by seven members of the older, larger Metropolitan Club, defecting in search of a more private setting. The founding president, Marcellus Bailey, was the son of Gamaliel Bailey, publisher of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," originally a serial in the family's weekly abolitionist newspaper, The National Era.
Early members included Col. Archibald Hopkins, who served under Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox; Maj. Gist Blair, whose townhouse across the street from the White House is now the nation's official guest house for state visitors; and Larz Anderson, the diplomat whose mansion houses the Society of the Cincinnati, an even more exclusive club where members must prove descent from a veteran of the American Revolution.
The club's membership rolls are a "who's who" of Washington in the late 19th century and the 20th.
Philanthropists and patrons of the arts hanging out at 18th and I streets included George E. Corcoran, whose family founded the Corcoran Gallery, and Walter Bruce Howe, founder of the National Symphony Orchestra.
Alibi Club lawyers have included Supreme Court justices Stanley Reed and Potter Stewart.
The club also has had cabinet members and top White House aides, including Dulles brothers Allen (CIA director) and John Foster (secretary of state); Eisenhower Secretary of State Christian A. Herter; Robert Lovett, who chaired the task force that created the CIA; and Nobel Peace Prize winner George C. Marshall, who headed the State Department and then the Defense Department under Truman.
Generals and admirals in the club included some of the biggest names of the Cold War: Army Gen. Maxwell Taylor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Kennedy; Adm. Jerauld Wright, commander of NATO naval forces and U.S. ambassador to China; and Alfred M. Grunther, supreme allied commander in Europe.
Earlier members among the military brass included Col. Henry Latrobe Roosevelt, later assistant secretary of the Navy under his distant cousin Franklin.
House Speaker Nicholas Longworth of Ohio was a member, as were Sens. Frederick Hale of Maine, John Kean of New Jersey, Blair Lee of Maryland, J.W. Wadsworth Sr. of New York, and Prescott Bush of Connecticut, the father and grandfather of presidents.
The secretive club is open to guests under certain conditions. Visitors have included King Leopold and Prince Albert of Belgium, Prince Henry of Prussia, an Italian duke and a Chinese ambassador.
Despite the caliber of its patrons, the clubhouse remains an outwardly plain townhouse whose architect isn't even mentioned in the building's National Register files.
The Alibi Club has made few alterations to its property, whose facade and interior (except for a collection of Japanese scrolls and a long oval table surrounded by fine Windsor chairs) would be familiar to the original occupants of the centennial-era townhouse.
Over the decades, the once-residential West End has become primarily an office district, with the headquarters of the World Bank, Pan American Organization, Bureau of National Affairs and, until last year, Pepco.
The residential population is mostly George Washington University students.
Most of the surviving 19th century homes in the West End are, like 1806 I St., occupied by nonprofits or clubs -- indeed, the Alibi's ancestor, the Metropolitan Club, moved to a house at 17th and H streets NW in 1880.
Mike Livingston is a Washington-based freelance writer.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
Location: 1806 Eye St., NW., Washington, District of Columbia
Added to NRHP: October 21, 1994
NRHP Reference#: 94001221
The Alibi Club is a private club in Washington, D.C. that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its members comprise the elite of Washington, including presidents, senators, Supreme Court justices, congressmen, ambassadors and military officials, as well as prominent private citizens.
The Alibi Club is located in a rowhouse a few blocks from the White House among larger commercial buildings. The Italianate house was built in 1869 and was occupied by the Alibi club in 1886, two years after the club's founding as an offshoot of the Metropolitan Club. The house is notable as a well-preserved example of residential architecture in an otherwise commercial district, but its chief significance is its association with the Club.
The club was established as a social club for mutual improvement among members of Washington society. It included Washington residents as well as out-of-town members. Its name was derived from the club practice of providing an alibi when the whereabouts of a member was questioned by the member's family. Membership is limited to fifty, with new members admitted on the death of a previous member, with the unanimous consent of the membership. Membership is not revealed to outsiders, and the first public notice of membership is frequently in a member's obituary.
The brick three story house stands directly on the street with no yard. It was originally rectangular in plan, but an extension was built in 1889 that runs to the alley in the rear. The house is entered through a narrow side entrance hall, 4 feet (1.2 m) wide, which widens as it goes back to accommodate a stairway. A front parlor connects to a back parlor through a wide opening. A vestibule connects the original front to the rear extension, which contains a dining room. The dining room features a fireplace whose mantel is inscribed "Alibi", and has space for a table with at least thirty chairs. A kitchen is directly above on the second floor. Other rooms on the second floor include a front parlor decorated with caricatures of members, followed by the Japanese Scroll Room, decorated with scrolls in display cases. A passage links to the kitchen using elements from the S.S. Alibi. The third floor contains three rooms used for storage. The basement contains service areas and storage, possibly with remnants of the original kitchen in the front and a storage area to the rear.
The club is furnished with donated mementos that cover nearly every available section of wall.
Some of the Alibi Club's most prominent members have included: President George H.W. Bush, his father, Senator Prescott Bush, Supreme Court Justices Potter Stewart and Stanley F. Reed, Allen Dulles and John Foster Dulles, Speaker of the House Nicholas Longworth and General George C. Marshall.
This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
* Theodore Achilles
* Chandler Anderson
* Larz Anderson
* Truxtun Beale
* Gist Blair
* Robert Woods Bliss
* Frederick N. Brooke
* David K.E. Bruce
* George H.W. Bush
* Prescott Bush
* George E. Corcoran
* Thomas Gardiner Corcoran
* Dwight Davis
* Allen Dulles
* John Foster Dulles
* James Dunn
* Walter Edge
* George A. Garrett
* Charles C. Glover III
* Gordon Gray
* Cary Grayson
* Joseph Grew
* Alfred Gruenther
* Frederick Hale
* George Hamilton, Jr.
* Nelson Hartson
* Christian A. Herter
* William Hibbs
* Archibald Hopkins
* Walter Bruce Howe
* David C. Karrick
* Samuel Kaufman
* John Kean
* Emory S. Land
* Nicholas Longworth
* Robert Lovett
* George C. Marshall
* Benjamin Mosby McKelway
* John Lord O'Brian
* Thomas Nelson Page
* Stanley F. Reed
* Henry Roosevelt
* Jules Henri de Sibour
* Potter Stewart
* Maxwell Taylor
* J.W. Wadsworth
* John F. Wilkins
* Clarence R. Wilson
* Blanton Winship
* Jerauld Wright
* William Wright