confection is a gargoyle-lover's delight.
Occupying a prime site at the entrance to the 79th Street Central
Park transverse road, this large mansion was erected in 1899 for
Isaac and Mary Fletcher and was designed by C. P. H. Gilbert in
the French Renaissance style.
After Mr. Fletcher died
in 1917, the house was acquired by Harry F. Sinclair and subsequently
by Augustus van Horn Stuyvesant and his sister Ann Stuyvesant,
descendants of Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant. In 1955, the property
was acquired by the Ukranian Institute of America and it is frequently
open to the public for exhibitions.
In his fine book, "Touring
The Upper East Side, Walks in Five Historic Districts" (The
New York Landmarks Conservancy, 1995), Andrew S. Dolkart provides
the following interesting commentary:
"Here, the rural chateau form is compacted by the demands
of an urban site, yet the house has a lively asymmetrical shape,
and is complete with a moat-like areaway with front stairs suggestive
of a draw bridge. The carved detail is outstanding: the winged
monster ensconced on the chimney, the paired dolphins on the stone
entrance railings, the rustic couples who flank the entrance,
and the heads dripping from the second-floor window are but a
few of the whimsical ornamental touches."
Another François I chateau-style mansion was designed by
C. P. H. Gilbert for Felix Warburg at 1109 Fifth Avenue in 1909
and it is now the Jewish Museum (see The
City Review article). The architect also designed a major
house in the same style for F. W. Woolworth of 5 and Dime fame
on the site the apartment building that now stands at 990 Fifth
This building is across
the street from the dark-brown apartment tower at 980 Fifth Avenue
that replaced several townhouses including one that belonged to
Isaac Brokaw and whose loss was one of the factors, along with
the demolition of the old Pennyslvania Station, that led to the
city's enactment of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The
Brokaw house was large but nowhere near as interesting or attractive
as this mansion, which anchors an entire block stretching to Madison
Avenue of townhouses, the only such block on Fifth Avenue on the
Upper East Side.
It also is the northern anchor of the extremely sumptuous block
of mansions on the avenue between 79th and 78th Streets, a rare
reminder of the glory days of when the avenue facing Central Park
was known as "Millionaire's Row" and as lined with mansions.
The lovely mansion at the south end of this block is the former
James Duke mansion at 1 East 78th Street, which is now the New
York University Institute of Fine Arts (see The
City Review article).
In 2002, the townhouse just
to the east of the Ukranian Institute was completed renovated
and rebuilt and the block took on more celebrity because one of
the mid-block townhouses on the north side of 79th Street belongs
to Mayor Bloomberg.
In their fine book, "The
A.I.A. Guide to New York City, Fourth Edition" (Three Rivers
Press, 2000), Elliot Willensky and Norval White describe this
as a "French Gothic palace," adding that "the classic
comparison is the house of Jacques Coeur (ca. 1450) at Bourges."
Not many people know that
the grand French Renaisance-style chateau on the southeast corner
of Fifth Avenue and 79th Street is actually open to the public.
Built for a businessman and art collector named Isaac D. Fletcher
in 1899, and later home to oil millionaire and scandal-ridden
Harry F. Sinclair as well as Augustus Van Horn Stuyvesant (descendant
of Peter Stuyvesant, the colonial director famous for his $24
deal with Manhattan's Native Americans), this mansion was purchased
by the Ukranian Institute in 1955.
The Institute hosts a multitude of events each year including
art exhibitions, auctions, literary evenings, theatrical performances,
lectures, concerts, forums and symposiums, and other social gatherings,
both for members of Ukrainian associations and the public at large.
Each of these events provides an opportunity to glimpse the splendors
of a grand turn-of-the-century town house. Note the magnificent
carved woodwork on the broad staircase and the many touches of
elegance throughout the three floors that are generally open for
Nestled in the midst of
"Museum Mile", which includes the Guggenheim Museum
and the Frick Collection, and diagonally across from the Metropolitan
Museum on the southeast corner of 79th Street and 5th Avenue,
is one of the most magnificent and regal turn-of-the-century mansions
in New York City.
The history of the acquisition
of the mansion by Mr. William Dzus, the founder of the Ukrainian
Institute of America, dates back to 1898 when Isaac Fletcher,
a banker and railroad investor, commissioned the architect
C.P.H. Gilbert to build a house using William K. Vanderbilt's
neo-Loire Valley chateau as its model, on the property, which was
originally the Lenox farm.
Mr. Fletcher was so pleased
with his new home that he hired Jean Francois Raffaelli to paint
a portrait of it; the painting, the mansion and the Fletcher's
extensive art collection were all eventually bequeathed to the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1917.
Harry F. Sinclair, the founder
of the Sinclair Oil Company, purchased the Fletcher Mansion in
1920 and sold it in 1930 to Augustus Van Horne Stuyvesant, Jr.,
a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant. A bachelor and recluse, Augustus
Stuyvesant occupied the mansion with his unmarried sister until
her death in 1938, then lived out the remaining years of his life
until 1953 with just his butler and footman to serve him.
William Dzus, inventor and
owner of the Dzus Fastener Company in West Islip, Long Island,
New York founded the Ukrainian Institute of America, Inc. in 1948,
for the purpose of promoting Ukrainian art, culture, music, and
literature. At that time, the Ukrainian Institute was located
in the Parkwood mansion in West Islip, Long Island. The increasing
membership and growth of the Institute prompted Mr. Dzus to search
for a larger facility; he authorized the treasurer of the Dzus
Fastener Company, Francis Clarke, to look for new, larger quarters
in New York City.
In 1955, the
mansion was purchased by the Ukrainian Insitute of America corporation
with with the charitable generosity and support of Mr. Dzus. In
June of 1962 the mortgage was paid off and subsequently the Ukrainian
Institute of America attained landmark status.
"Here, the rural chateau
form is compacted by the demands of an urban site, yet the house has a lively asymmetrical shape, and is complete
with a moat-like areaway with front stairs suggestive of a draw
bridge. The carved detail is outstanding: the winged monster ensconced
on the chimney, the paired dolphins on the stone entrance railings, the
rustic couples who flank the entrance, and the heads dripping from the
second-floor window are but a few of the whimsical ornamental
In his February 9, 2003 "Streetscapes" column in The New York Times, Christopher Gray wrote that "the lacy limestone pinnacles
of the 1899 Fletcher mansion at 79th Street and Fifth Avenue are
gleaming, the streaks of soot and dirt removed by a cleaning late
last year by its owner, the Ukrainian Institute of America," adding that "This
neo-French Gothic house is one of the touchstone works of the
architect Charles P. H. Gilbert, who not only designed mansions
for the leading families of New York but could also shoot at a
gallop from underneath a horse."
"The Gothic moldings, high mansard, giant entryway and
forest of pinnacles," he continued, "make the building as much a fantasy as a work
of architecture. Around the corner, the contemporaneous Converse
house, designed by Gilbert at 3 East 78th Street, offers a nice
little side-street riff on the same style. A third contemporaneous
Gilbert mansion was that of Frank W. Woolworth at the northeast
corner of 80th Street and Fifth Avenue, now demolished but similar
to the Fletcher and Kleeberg houses....In 1902 Gilbert designed
another imposing house, that of Joseph R. DeLamar at the northeast
corner of 37th Street and Madison Avenue. Now the Polish Consulate,
that structure lacks the lacy decoration of the high French Gothic
structures, but its bloated size gives it the opulent quality
of the earlier buildings....In collaboration with J.
Armstrong Stenhouse, Gilbert designed a very reserved palazzo
for the banker Otto Kahn. The building, now the Convent of the
Sacred Heart, was designed in 1914 and completed in 1918 at 91st
Street and Fifth Avenue."