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Monday, October 06, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

This past weekend was the 6th annual Open House New York. I have been very enthusiastic about this event and have attended the past three years - see the links for my previous articles and photos below. This year I decided to take a journey to the Ukrainian Institute, owing to its description as "ornate, French Renaissance-style mansion, once owned by oil tycoon Harry F. Sinclair, now houses the Ukrainian Institute." After all, who doesn't like to visit a mansion? See photos of the interior here.
The French Gothic house, known as the Fletcher-Sinclair mansion, was built in 1898 by Isaac D. Fletcher and designed by architect C. P. H. Gilbert. Read about it here in an article by Christopher Gray of the New York Times.
At one time there were a myriad of mansions in Manhattan. Those who find displays of opulence disturbing because they may have been built on the backs of others, will perhaps find comfort that most of these were abandoned as private residences. I must confess, that for me, mansions are guilty pleasures. According to the aforementioned article by Christopher Gray: "Death and Taxes'' in Fortune magazine of July 1939 remarked that the Fifth Avenue mansions had become ''symbols not of power but of decay'' -- of the 72 private houses then left on Fifth Avenue, 33 were closed. The article reported that even a moderate-sized house required 10 servants at a yearly payroll of $14,000, with $4,000 alone in food for the staff. The bare minimum for keeping a house open was $30,000 a year."
These mansions have been converted to other uses such as embassies, museums, institutions and high profile retailers. Whether one sees these uses as more socially acceptable is one issue; certainly it is nice that most of these can now be used and enjoyed by the populace.
The Ukrainian Institute of America took over this property in 1955. Their function is to develop, sponsor and promote through activities a greater awareness, understanding, knowledge and appreciation in the United States of the art, literature, music, culture, history and traditions of Ukraine.
Their current usage of the mansion allows me to better enjoy a guilty pleasure :)

Related postings from previous Open House New York weekends: Masonic LodgeSecret Rooftop GardenTerrapin Chelsea Art Gallery, Stairwell, Cold Stone


Wayne said...

I've been torn by this issue for ages. I'm bothered by ostentatious and ego-centric displays of wealth. And I realize that we wouldn't have most of the renowned art and architecture we enjoy if not for the support and vision of the very wealthy throughout history.
The question will likely never be completely reconciled for me. I am encouraged by billionaires such as Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett who will distribute much of their wealth to worthy causes.
I revel in these buildings too Brian.

Brian Dubé said...

Wayne - I agree completely. For me, this issue was most acute when I went to Versailles, an absolutely astonishing example of display of wealth.

Beth in NYC said...

Brian, some scenes from the movie, Kate & Leopold, were shot in this building. I tried to sneak in there while it was going on, but to no avail. :-)

berlinphoto said...

During the night this building must be THE house for Halloween. Sometimes I whish the walls in these houses could speak and talk about the years and years they exist.

sarah said...

Wow. That is amazing!