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972 and 973 Fifth Avenue

Between 78th & 79th Streets

972 has elegant exposed south facade

972 has long, elegant exposed south facade at the right, and 973 is similar building just to the left

By Carter B. Horsley

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).

Details at top of 972 Fifth Avenue

Details at the top of 972 Fifth Avenue

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.)

Base of 972 Fifth Avenue

Base of 972 Fifth Avenue is rusticated and has handsome entrance doors with bronze details

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 1909.

Base of 973 Fifth Avenue

Base of 973 Fifth Avenue is rusticated and has handsome wooden doors

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 972:

"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."

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