Since childhood I had been curious about the French Gothic limestone chateau on the corner of 79th Street and Fifth Avenue, so I was excited to see the building on the list of sites open to the public for Annual Open House New York (OHNY) Weekend. I have to admit my interest in the mansion was piqued c. 1999 when I saw the movie Cruel Intentions and the evil Valmont stepsiblings appeared to reside in the house.
A National Historic Landmark, known as the Fletcher-Sinclair mansion, the house was originally built in 1899 for businessman Isaac Fletcher and designed by prominent Gilded Age architect C.P.H. Gilbert (Gilbert designed dozens of mansions and townhouses around NYC, including the nearby, similarly opulent French Gothic Warburg mansion, which today houses the Jewish Museum).
After Fletcher died, disgraced oil industrialist Harry Sinclair purchased the mansion, followed by Augustus and Anne Van Horne Stuyvesant (unmarried brother-sister descendants of Peter Stuyvesant). In 1955, the Ukrainian Institute bought the building and has continually used it as a center for the Ukrainian-American community and a showplace for Ukrainian culture. The Institute hosts art exhibits, concerts, screenings, readings, children's programs and lectures, all open to the public (turns out I didn't need to wait years to see the inside of the building).
The chateau has lavish details, both inside and out. There are lots of gargoyles, whimsical figures, and gothic drip moldings on the exterior. There is also a dry moat around the building.
Although I was initially disappointed to learn that the indoor shots in Cruel Intentions were filmed in L.A., the mansion's interiors did not disappoint. There are intricate wooden carvings, ceiling moldings, ornate lighting fixtures, and crystal chandeliers throughout the house.
How funny is this built-in scale in the bathroom?
On one of the upper floors there is a permanent display of work by acclaimed Ukrainian sculptor Alexander Archipenko. There is also an interesting temporary painting exhibit titled “Faces of Ukraine,” featuring Socialist Realist portraits and scenes of Ukrainians in the post-World War II period up until the mid-1980s.
I highly recommend stopping by the Ukrainian Institute to see the art exhibits and stunning building. Just be sure to call ahead because the nonprofit rents out the building for private events.
For more information on the Ukrainian Institute, visit the website here.