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Underground Explosions Threaten NYC Friars Club

102-year-old building set for underground dynamite blasts

  • New York City Friars Club
  • New York City Friars Club
  • Gilbert Gottfried and Goerge Takei at the New York City Friars Club
  • Lisa Lampanelli at the New York City Friars Club
  • New York City Friars Club circa 1958
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It's known for shaking up celebrities at its comedy roasts. But the Friars Club says it's not laughing about plans to blast dynamite under its 102-year-old clubhouse in midtown Manhattan.

Club officials are worried about plans by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to build a ventilation shaft under the building, the club's lawyer, Sid Davidoff, said Monday. They fear the blasts may hurt the building, and that construction on the street and sidewalk will discourage customers from coming to the club's restaurant.

Club officials are hiring an engineering firm to go over the transportation authority's plans and are hoping they can persuade the agency to choose a different street, Davidoff said. "You're going to be talking about blasting, noise, dust, traffic," Davidoff said. "We're really worried about the club."

The building on 55th Street hosts about 175 events a year, including stand-up comedy shows, concerts, a film festival and the club's famous roasts, in which comedians pepper a celebrity with good-natured insults. Its restaurant is open six days a week.

Transit officials say the clubhouse is in no danger. "We do not anticipate any impact of construction on the building," said Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the agency.

The ventilation shaft is part of the East Side Access project, a system of tunnels that will allow the Long Island Rail Road to run trains to Grand Central Terminal. The transit agency plans to install grates for the shaft in the sidewalk near the clubhouse.

The agency says it will close parts of some streets during the construction but is taking pains to protect buildings. To minimize the area needed for construction crews, workers will take dirt and muck through a tunnel to Queens instead of lifting it out in Manhattan.

The transit agency plans to hire a contractor for the ventilation shaft before the end of the year. Construction will take about two years. The club's concerns were first reported Monday by the New York Post.

The Friars Club was founded in 1904 by a group of public relations agents who worked on Broadway. The group grew to include actors, comedians and other show-business workers. The club members called themselves "friars" after the Latin word for brother, "frater."

In 1957, the group moved into its current clubhouse on 55th Street between Madison and Park avenues. The five-story English Renaissance house was built in 1909 as a home for investment banker Martin Erdmann.