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The Club was founded in 1926. By 1927, it had purchased this site next to the Hudson River to construct its own building. It was completed in 1930.
The high cost of land necessitated a tall building, and the relatively small lot size dictated that the different functions and facilities of the club, including swimming pool, gymnasium, miniature golf course, squash, and tennis courts, as well as dining rooms and living quarters, be accommodated on separate floors.
The building was designed in a classic Art Deco decor. Its architects, Starrett & van Vleck are also noted for designing several New York department stores including Lord and Taylor, Bloomingdales and Saks Fifth Avenue shortly before the design of this Club.
It has been designated as a landmark in New York, ensuring the building's unique architectural legacy.
It was most famous for its annual awarding of the Heisman Trophy in its building, given every year to the most outstanding college football player, and named after John Heisman, the club's first athletic director.
The building became important for the whole architecture world since it took a key part of Rem Koolhaas' Delirious New York, and since it appears frequently in his conceptual work, like in the horizontal congestion he wanted to developed for the Parc de la Villette (Paris).
The club was less than half a mile south of the World Trade Center and closed after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The club never reopened, and declared bankruptcy in 2002. The 45-story building is now a residential tower named "The Downtown Club" which opened in 2005.
The Downtown Athletic Club clubhouse was not physically damaged in the attack on 9/11/01, but it was located within the "frozen zone" from which the public was excluded for an extended period during the clean-up after the attack. The club's finances could not withstand the financial impact of such a long closure. The members, as well as the dedicated managers and employees -some who had been with the club for over 20 years - were devastated at the loss of the club and their livelihood.
The Heisman Trophy was relocated temporarily uptown to the Yale Club of New York City. The ceremony moved to the Hilton New York for 2004 and has been presented annually at the Best Buy Theater since 2005. ESPN has provided television coverage of the Heisman Trophy presentation from 1995 to the present.