A few days ago, I was walking home from The Met, and I noticed this absolutely spectacular mansion. I stopped in my tracks.
It’s the French Embassy for Cultural Services. The French, I thought, obviously don’t disappoint. Then I did a little research and learned a hell of a lot more about the mansion. It’s known as the Payne Whitney Mansion, built in 1902. Amazing. The entire block is actually gorgeous, overlooking Central Park and lined with old world mansions. It’s old time New York Chic, built in the Gilded Age of American billionaires. A little history below:
It was designed in the style of the high Italian Renaissance by McKim, Mead & White. It was erected in 1902-06 for financier, philanthropist, and sportsman Payne Whitney and his wife Helen, a poet and patron of the arts(sister-in law to the Whitney’s who founded the Whitney Museum.) Whitney had been given the land by his uncle Oliver Payne (who was an officer in the Civil War and the benefactor instrumental in establishing the Cornell University Medical College) as a wedding gift for himself and his bride, Helen Hay, daughter of the Secretary of State for President McKinley. The total cost of the land and building of the mansion was estimated to be around $1 million.
Stanford White designed and oversaw the construction of the exterior and interiors of the house, until he was murdered in 1906. Among the furniture and art that he sourced for the house was a cupid sculpture that was placed in the round foyer. Recently, the cupid was found to have been sculpted by Michelangelo!
Helen Hay Whitney lived in the house until 1944. The French government acquired the Payne Whitney Mansion in 1952. In 1970, it was deemed an official landmark of the City of New York. Today, the building is home to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.
OK – Guess what? you can rent it out for parties…