57 East 55th Street: Martin Erdmann Residence (now Friar’s Club)
Martin Erdmann House, now Friars Club
57 East 55th Street
Taylor & Levi, 1908-09
Martin Erdmann was a banker who built this striking town house in a German Renaissance style for his early retirement. The house was commissioned when Erdmann was only in his forties. In 1910, he lived here on his own income, with no family members, but with eight servants: a housekeeper, butler, footman, horseman, parlormaid, chambermaid, kitchenmaid, maid, and cook. The servants were an international group, having emigrated from England, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and Germany. Erdmann himself was born in New York, but his father was from Germany, which may explain the unusual Germanic design provided by the firm of Taylor & Levi. The building is unlike any contemporary New York town house, with its gabled front, strapwork ornament, and leaded windows. An anonymous critic for the journal Architecture commented on just how unusual the facade was, noting that it was “conceived in so different a vein from most New York houses that its propriety can be questioned, . . . but there is much in this house to awaken an intelligence lulled to sleep by monotonous repetition of classic forms.” This is the only remaining house on what was once a residential block. It has been preserved since 1956 by The Friars Club, a club for actors. Club members refer to the building as “The Monastery.” The club was established in 1904 and in 1911 inaugurated the Friar Frolics, for which Irving Berlin wrote Alexander’s Ragtime Band. The club is best known to the public for its famous Celebrity Roasts, where famous performers joke about the guest of honor. Many of Erdmann’s original interiors are intact.
“Residence, Martin Erdmann, 57 E. 55th St., New York,” Architecture 20 (October 1909), 147, plate lxxxv.
United States Census, 1910.