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Disgraced Ex-President Starts to Move Out of National Arts Club

By Amy Zimmer | June 27, 2013 7:24am
 Ex-president O. Aldon James has to be out of his National Arts Club apartment by July 31.
Ex-president moves out of National Arts Club
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MANHATTAN — More than 30 moving boxes were piled up outside the back entrance of the National Arts Club Wednesday as disgraced former president O. Aldon James and his twin brother began their forced eviction.

James, who was at the club's helm for 25 years, fought to keep his digs at 15 Gramercy Park South, but a warrant will force him, along with his brother, John James, and their friend, Steven Leitner, from their apartments by July 31, the club's lawyer Roland Riopelle confirmed.

The James brothers and Leitner stockpiled club apartments — rented at below-market rates or for free —allegedly to hoard antiques and other junk they'd buy on flea market sprees using club funds.

Aldon James was slapped with a $2 million lawsuit by the Attorney General's office in September after an 18-month probe found he used the club for personal benefit

John James has been at the historic mansion in recent weeks sifting through massive mounds of stuff strewn all over the men's three remaining apartments, staffers said. He's been taking things out the back door.

Aldon James, who has not been spotted at the club for several weeks, did not respond to requests for comment.

The club recently voted in a new president, the Rev. Tom Pike, a retired rector from the nearby Calvary-St. George's Church and former Landmarks Preservation Commissioner, who told DNAinfo he hopes to attract new, younger members and bring back former members who may have been "alienated in the past."

Pike said he wants to focus on ensuring the club's financial soundness.

"The club has had some hard times in the past," he said, "but it's got a wonderful future."

Dianne Bernhard, a painter and philanthropist who served as the club's president after James stepped down in March 2011, left her post as part of a stipulation by the Attorney General's office, which included a host of oversight changes including a reconstituted board. 

It also required that the club's much-coveted apartments be made equally available to members "at no less than fair market value."

They could fetch "substantial" rents after they're cleaned up and renovated, real estate experts said of the grand apartments, which have double height ceilings with mezzanines overlooking the living rooms.

Of the nearly 40 apartments in the club, rents range from more than $7,600 a month — for Bernhard's apartment  — to roughly $500 a month, according to a rent roll of the units obtained by DNAinfo New York.

Prices of rentals on the market in buildings along Gramercy Park include three-bedroom apartments at 50 Gramercy Park North asking $29,500 a month, 4 Gramercy Park West asking $25,000 a month and 36 Gramercy Park East asking $24,500 a month, according to StreetEasy.com.

Those apartments may be bigger, but, as locals pointed out, they're not part of a building with a dining room and bar, a major art collection and myriad events attended by notable artists, actors and literati.