Henry Cook, a banker
and railroad tycoon, purchased the entire block bounded by Fifth
and Madison Avenues and 78th and 79th streets in 1879 and built
a mansion for himself on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue
and 78th Street and eventually subdivided the remainder of the
block with the proviso that only townhouses be built on it.
His house was purchased and demolished by James B. Duke, who replaced
it with a beautiful new mansion that is now the New York University
Institute of Fine Arts (see The City Review
article.) Isaac Fletcher bought the corner lot 79th Street
on Fifth Avenue, which is now the Ukrainian Institute of America
(see The City Review article).
Between the New York University
Institute of Fine Arts building and the Ukrainian Institute are
two magnificent abutting townhouses at 972 and 973 Fifth Avenue
and the four buildings comprise the last remaining Fifth Avenue
block of townhouses. (The Frick Collection and the National Design
Museum (see The City Review article),
of course, were townhouses that occupied entire blockfronts.)
Oliver H. Payne built the
house at 972 as a wedding gift for Payne and Helen Hay Whitney
and Henry Cook developed 973 although he died before it was completed.
Both houses were designed in Italian Renaissance-palazzo style
by Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White and completed in
972 is now the Cultural
Services building of the Embassy of France. In his book, "Touring
The Upper East Side, Walks in Five Historic Districts" (The
New York Landmarks Conservancy, 1995), Andrew S. Dolkart observes
that "The beautifully proportioned bow-fronted residence,
one of White's masterpieces, is ornamented with especially elegant
carved detail Features of note include the marble entranceway,
heavy wrought-iron doors, and the loggia on the south elevation.
The sumptuous interiors were filled with antique columns, woodwork,
and other objects collected by White during his European travels.
The French government, which purchased the property in 1952, sponsors
public exhibitions in the house."
In his fine book, "Beaux-Arts
Architecture in New York" (Dover Publications Inc., 1988)
which has excellent photographs by Edmund V. Gillon Jr., Henry
Hope Reed provides the following interesting commentary about
"Experts see the inspiration
as being the Pesaro Palace on Venice's Grand Canal, but the game
of identifying sources of a Stanford White building can be endless....The
identifying elements are pairs of Ionic pilasters (columns on
the Venetian palace) on the second floor which frame round-arch
windows. The figures in the arch spandrels are another Venetian
touch. Still, Fifth Avenue is a long way away from the Grand Canal:
the interpretation is free. Particularly nice touches are the
masks and fruit garlands above the third-floor windows and the
marble figure reliefs above the fourth-floor windows. These last
must have an eighteenth-century provenance, probably French."