Architecture Images-Upper East Side
Cultural Services, Embassy Of France
|Stanford White of McKim, Mead and White|
|972 Fifth Ave., Bet. East 78th & East 79th St.|
|Italian Renaissance-palazzo style|
|Commentary by various authors
Andrew S. Dolkart, "Touring The Upper East Side, Walks in Five Historic
Districts" (The New York Landmarks Conservancy, 1995),
"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."
Henry Hope Reed, "Beaux-Arts Architecture in New York" (Dover
Publications Inc., 1988) photographs by Edmund V. Gillon Jr., 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. Particulary 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."
incorrectly associate the name "Payne Whitney" with the
Esopus estate, which was willed to Harry Payne Bingham. But it is
correct that William Payne Whitney was another favorite nephew of
Oliver Payne. This section is a short biography of Payne Whitney.
PAYNE WHITNEY, B.A., LL.B., of New York City, capitalist,
philanthropist, was born in New York City 20 March 1876, the son of
William Collins and Flora (Payne) Whitney, and died at Greetree, his
country place at Manhasset, Long Island, N. Y., 25 May 1927.
His mother, Flora (Payne) Whitney, was born in 1848 and died 5 February
1893, the daughter of Henry B. Payne, 1810-1896, of Cleveland, Ohio,
(Hamilton College, 1832), lawyer, prominent Democrat, member of the
United States House of Representatives, 1875-1877, United States
Senator from Ohio, 1885-1891. Through this grandfather, Payne traced
an ancestral line to William Bradford of the Mayflower, Governor of the
Payne Whitney entered Yale University and received his Bachelor of
Arts in 1898. He then studied law for three years at the Harvard Law
School, receiving his Bachelor of Laws in 1901. His share in his
father's large estate was increased by his own business ability; and
several millions came to him from the estate of his uncle, Col. Oliver
Hazard Payne, including Payne's estate in Thomasville, Georgia.
Payne Whitney soon became influential in New York financial circles and
a director or executive officer of several large corporations,
including the Great Northern Paper Company, the First National Bank of
New York, the Whitney Realty Company, and the Northern Finance
In 1902, Payne Whitney married Helen Hay, daughter of the
distinguished man of letters and statesman, John Hay, Lincoln's
personal secretary and first biographer, who was United States
Ambassador to Great Britain, 1897-98, and Secretary of State,
1898-1905, and his wife, Clara (Stone) Hay. Helen Hay Whitney lived
at 972 Fifth Avenue until her death in 1944. The couple had two
children, Mrs. Charles Shipman Payson (Joan Whitney)(5 Feb 1903 - Oct
1975) of New York City and Manhasset, well known as the co-founder of
the New York Mets in 1962, and John Hay Whitney (17 Aug 1904 - Feb
1982) of New York City.
While in college, Mr. Whitney rowed for two years on the Yale crew, of
which he was captain in 1898, thus following in the footsteps of his
father and uncle, both of whom had been college oarsmen. He never lost
his interest in the rowing achievements of his alma mater, gave
liberally to their support, and was the donor of a dormitory for the
crew at Gales Ferry. Interested in horse racing, he had a racing
stable of his own and engaged in the raising of thoroughbred horses.
He was a constant and oftentimes anonymous benefactor of educational
and charitable institutions, making large gifts to Yale, to the New
York Hospital, of which he was a trustee and vice president, to the New
York Public Library, of which also he was a trustee for many years and
to which he gave in 1923 $12,000,000, and to many other foundations
that serve the public.
After his death in 1927, the family contributed sufficient funds to
Yale University to enable construction of the Payne Whitney athletic
complex . This facility was completely renovated in 1997. The newly
renovated Payne Whitney Gymnasium was originally constructed in 1932
under the direction of John Russell Pope. The gym is one of the most
complete units of indoor facilities in the world. The building was
given to the University by the Whitney family in memory of their son
Payne Whitney, class of 1898. The nine and one half story structure
contains training centers for crew, gymnastics, swimming, general
exercise, recreational and varsity strength and conditioning and a
state of the art fencing salon.
The family also contributed sufficient funds to establish the Payne
Whitney Psychiatric Clinic at New York Presbyterian Hospital in l932.
The Payne Whitney Clinic is a 60-bed, voluntary facility that provides
state-of-the-art mental health services and related research and
education programs within one of the world’s major medical centers. The
Central Evaluation Service offers comprehensive evaluation and
diagnostic services for patients in need of hospitalization or
ambulatory treatment. The Inpatient Service provides diagnostic
services and care for acutely ill adolescents, adults, and the elderly.
Specialty clinical programs have been developed to meet the needs of
patients and families. Services are offered for a wide range of
diagnostic categories, including affective disorders, psychotic
disorders and dual diagnosis.
The Payne Whitney house at 972 Fifth Avenue, just below 79th Street.
The house is only at the right (three windows on the upper floors, but
the adjoining house has been given almost the same treatment, so that
the viewer might suspect they were the same house.
The plaque below indicates that Oliver Hazard Payne donated the land.
He also contributed over $600,000 to the construction, a considerable
sum in 1904.
The view of 972 Fifth Avenue at right shows that the row up to 79th
Street has been kept intact with the architecture of the Gilded Age.
In fact, the James Duke house just below 972 Fifth Avenue with 1 East
78th Street address looks like a Carrère & Hastings special,
resembling the Frick Museum and the Esopus Mansion. So the entire
block reminds one of what much of Fifth Avenue looked like during the
late 1890s and 1900s. Nowadays, this block is unique, as most of Fifth
Avenue is covered with high rise apartments.
Although many people today first associate James Duke with Duke
University, he attained his financial wealth via the American Tobacco
Company. He was helped in this by Oliver Hazard Payne, who put
together a group of financiers to enable Duke to buy out his
competitors in the Carolinas. Duke himself, or his father, invented
the pre-rolled cigarette and worked to wean smokers from roll-your-own.
There may be a reason why Duke and Payne built their townhouses so
close together. However, it may be only coincidence; all affluent
Gilded Age families fought for space along upper Fifth Avenue.
Stanford White, often considered the most decoratively minded of the
partnership of McKim, Mead & White, designed many of the most
impressive and influential interiors of the era, particularly in the
domestic realm. "One of his finest mature works was the residence of
Payne and Helen Hay Whitney at 972 Fifth Avenue in New York City, now
the building of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. White
designed and oversaw the execution of all the interiors in the house,
which was still being built at the time of his death in 1906. These
interiors exemplified the prevailing taste of wealthy New Yorkers and
reflected a uniquely American expression of European styles."
"By the 1880s, McKim, Mead and White had become the architectural firm
of choice for the elite of New York society and White was able to
secure clients with large amounts of money to spend on new residences
and extensive remodeling. Among his many commissions were houses for
such clients as Whitelaw Reid (1837-1912), Henry William Poor
(1844-1915), and Ogden Mills (1825-1910). At the same time that he
worked on the Payne Whitney house, White was busy building other
mansions in New York City, including ones for Mrs. William K.
Vanderbilt Jr. (nee Virginia Fair, d. 1935), and Joseph Pulitzer
"At the Payne Whitney house, White worked under very favorable
circumstances indeed: his clients were members of a well-established
wealthy New York family who had few fixed ideas about what the building
and interiors should look like. The residence at 972 Fifth Avenue was
commissioned in late 1902 as a wedding present from Colonel Oliver
Hazard Payne (1839-1917) for his nephew Payne Whitney upon his marriage
to Helen Hay. Colonel Payne contributed more than $625,000 to the cost
of the fashionable Fifth Avenue house, but he left the design choices
in White's able hands. The foundation of the five-story house was laid
in 1902, and work on the architectural shell progressed through 1903.
By January 1904, the house was still not roofed in, but White was
already planning the interiors."
"The public spaces on the ground floor were unusual, both
architecturally and decoratively The dome over the entrance hall and
the main staircase was constructed by the New York firm of Raphael
Guastavino Fireproof Construction Company which used a laminated
vaulting system. The layered tile vaults, … allowed for extremely
thin, shallow vaults of great strength. The technology dated back to
ancient times and had been used in many large-scale public buildings,
such as Grand Central Terminal in New York City but it was relatively
unusual in a domestic setting. White utilized a half-arch support for
the main stair; and, more notably a broad shallow dome for the entrance
hail. Supported by a circle of paired marble columns, the tile courses
of the dome were ornamented with a trompe-l'oeil trellis painted by
James Wall Finn … a muralist of note in the first years of the
Quoted material taken from Jenil Sandberg article in Magazine Antiques,
The Venetian Room
Resplendent with mirrors and gilt, the Venetian room is one of
architect Stanford White's masterpieces and one of his very last
creations. Now returned to its original location and meticulously
restored, it once again magnificently conveys the ambiance of the
The Venetian room was created as the reception room in the townhouse at
972 Fifth Avenue that was a wedding gift from Oliver Payne, a financier
and industrialist, for his nephew Payne Whitney and Helen Hay. Visitors
entered the shallow-domed hall through massive wrought-iron doors. The
Whitneys' guests were then ushered into the reception room, which had
an adjoining powder room, before proceeding upstairs.
Oliver Payne commissioned America's best known architect, Stanford
White, to design the house. With five stories above ground plus two
under, it would have 22,000 square feet of living and service space.
White began work on the plans in 1902. Construction took another five
years, and during that time White repeatedly refined his ideas for the
reception room. White's final drawings show the room almost exactly as
it appears today, with neoclassical ornaments surrounding large
mirrored panels, picture frames with putti, a lattice cove with
porcelain flowers, and a parquet floor. Construction of the reception
room began in April 1906 and was completed in December. White had
approved the final details shortly before his death in June 1906. The
only known alteration occurred in 1941, when the damaged figurative
ceiling painting was replaced.
Helen Hay Whitney called this space the Venetian room. After she died
in 1944, her son, John Hay Whitney, followed her wishes to have the
room preserved, so it was removed before the house was sold in 1949.
The French government acquired the building in 1952. The Venetian room
remained in storage until 1997, when Mrs. John Hay Whitney donated the
room to the French-American Foundation and provided the financial
support for its restoration.
Diana S Waite.
Payne and Helen Whitney and their children John and Joan are listed in
the 1920 census as living at 972 Fifth Avenue. Also listed with them
are thirteen servants. However, these servants may also have serviced
the Thomasville estate in Georgia and more probably the Greentree
estate in Manhasset NY. The 1930 census omits 972 Fifth Avenue, but
lists Helen Whitney and her son John living at the Manhasset site
together with 21 servants. The 1920 census listing for Payne Whitney
is preceded directly by a listing for James D Duke, his wife Natalie
and daughter Doris living around the corner at 78th Street. While I
know of no connection between Payne and Duke, it is common knowledge
that Oliver Hazard Payne arranged the financing for James Duke to buy
out his North Carolina competitors and organize the American Tobacco
Company. Fifth Avenue between the 60s and 70s streets became the place
to be for those of the gilded age.