The handsome five-story townhouse at 46 East 70th Street began its life as the home of Stephen Carlton Clark. Clark’s grandfather was Edward Clark, the founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, and one of the wealthiest men in America. (Edward Clark would also build the Dakota on 72nd and Central Park West.) In 1911, Frederick Sterner designed a house for him at 46 East 70th Street with high bay windows, gabled roofs, and rich wood paneling throughout the interior. Clark probably never expected his home would one day be filled with lions, narwhal tusks, stones from the top of Everest and sand from the surface of the moon.
Stephen was always the studious one out of the four Clark brothers, and he would handle the controlling interest in the family business. In fact, he had a long-running feud with his brother, Sterling, who was galavanting off in China, France, and the West Indies while Stephen remained in New York. The real trouble began when Sterling married an actress in the Comédie Française and tried to make her a beneficiary of the family fortune. Stephen refused, perhaps out of propriety, perhaps out of resentment that he was stuck in New York while his brother went adventuring across Europe and Asia. These events led to a bitter falling out (“May God curse him on earth as well as heaven,” Sterling once said), and the two only spoke once after that, when Stephen’s son Robert died in 1952. It’s ironic that Stephen’s home would one day become a shrine to the very lifestyle he shunned and Sterling embraced.
All the same, Stephen was no closed-minded miser. He was deeply passionate about sports, art, and philanthropy. In 1939, he founded the Baseball Hall of Fame in his hometown of Cooperstown, NY, bringing a thriving tourist trade to a town hit heavily by the Great Depression. He was also one of the founders of the Museum of Modern Art, and devoted an entire room on the top floor of his home to his enormous Matisse collection.
Clark died in 1960, and 46 East 70th Street was purchased by the Explorers Club, who until then had been operating out of the Majestic Hotel just across the street from the Dakota. The Explorers Club was established in 1905 under Henry Collins Walsh “to encourage explorers in their work by evincing interest and sympathy, and especially by bringing them in personal contact and binding them in the bonds of good fellowship.” They renamed it the Lowell Thomas Building after the globe-trotting journalist, best known for bringing Lawrence of Arabia to international attention. They filled their new headquarters with souvenirs from their members’ greatest journeys. The globe Thor Heyerdahl used to plan his Kon-Tiki trip stands in the center of the foyer. A sledge used by Robert Peary on his trip to the North Pole hangs in the dining room. A trophy room filled with pelts and stuffed heads includes a lion shot by Teddy Roosevelt. In addition to Heyerdahl, Peary, and Roosevelt, members have included Richard Byrd, Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay, Chuck Yeager, and Sally Ride (though women were not officially admitted to the club until 1981.)
Today, the Explorers Club funds research expeditions to remote areas of the globe and hosts lecture series open to the public. They also throw an annual dinner with such exotic treats as bull testicles, grilled meerkat, and tempura-fried cockroaches, all washed down with mealworm-garnished champagne.
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