LLNYC takes you inside the New York Palace hotel’s historic Villard Mansion

IMG_0877
The South Wing of the Villard Mansion (photograph via the New York Palace hotel)

Welcome to the Villard Mansion –the historic entranceway to the Lotte New York Palace hotel. Set across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, behind large iron gates on Madison Avenue, the Villard Mansion is one of the most unique Gilded Age buildings remaining in New York.

Constructed in 1884 by Henry Villard — an American journalist, financier, publisher of the New York Evening Post and the Nation, and president of the Northern Pacific Railway, who is known for accompanying Abraham Lincoln on his 1860 campaign — the building is actually a collection of six townhouses made to look like a unified Italian villa.

“There was a recession and he [Villard] was financially out there. So whereas this might have been one large house, or not as many as the six that it is, he was forced to take on investors, and these became townhouses under the image of a palace,” Lee Jablin, a partner at Harman Jablin Architects, told LLNYC during our tour.

The building itself was designed by architecture firm McKim, Mead and White – a young firm at the time, later known for Pennsylvania Station, the Brooklyn Museum and the main campus of Columbia University. But a lesser known figure played a large role in the project.

“The building was McKim, Mead and White, but the lead individual was a Joseph Wells,” Jablin said. “He, in fact, was not a partner [at McKim, Mead and White] but he had traveled to Italy and seen various Italian villas and that inspired him to create this collection of townhouses.”

The building was the first in New York to have gas lighting installed.
The Villard House was the first residence to have been built with Edison electric fittings designed to be compatible with a city-wide power distribution system rather than an independent generator. (Photograph via the New York Palace hotel)

Over the years, the houses were divided, connected, renovated and used for offices. Then in 1968, the property was landmarked by the city.

In 1980, real estate billionaire Harry Helmsley completed a 51-story hotel tower directly behind the original building — the hotel and mansion were most recently purchased by the South Korean conglomerate Lotte.

Since then the south wing of the Villard Mansion (the former home of Le Cirque) has hit the market after celebrity chef Michel Richard’s poorly-reviewed restaurant closed.

The marketing team, PD Properties, is currently looking for a single tenant at $5 million a year. Elad Dror, president of PD Properties, told LLNYC that he hopes to sign a high-end fashion tenant that can make use of the mansion’s varied architecture.

NY-Palace

Here is a look inside:

It doesn’t get more Gilded Age than this. This is the “Gold Room,” so-named for its gold walls and ceiling. It was designed by legendary society architect Stanford White — as were most of the interiors — and was originally used as a music room. Most recently, it was used as the bar for Michel Richard’s now-defunct restaurant.

plaza-hotel-13
Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC

Musicians would play from the balcony and there would be listening or dancing below.

Photograph via the Palace Hotel
Photograph via the New York Palace hotel

The carvings are based on works in Florence.

Photograph via the New York Palace hotel
Photograph via the New York Palace hotel

Now, enter the dining room. Notice the design on the door: those are thousands of decorative nails, painstakingly hammered into an incredibly intricate pattern. The same work has been done in panels on the ceiling. Talk about labor intensive.

Photograph via the New York Palace hotel
Photograph via the New York Palace hotel

You can imagine the formal dinner parties that filled the long narrow room. The inlay on the walls is actually a paste made of linseed oil and wood chips, rather than a true inlay like what you would see in the Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio in the Met.

Photograph via the New York Palace hotel
Photograph via the New York Palace hotel

The hearth is topped with a beautiful painting by Edwin Austin Abbey.

“For those of you who are financially interested, it’s worth a lot of money,” Jablin told LLNYC with chuckle.

Photography by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC
Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC

Exiting the dining room, you are led to an interior hall with a starkly different architectural aesthetic. Both the floors and the vaulted ceilings are done in mosaic.

Photograph via the New York Palace hotel
Photograph via the New York Palace hotel

The hall leads on one end to a drawing room that was expanded at the height of the Gilded Age by Mrs. Elizabeth Mills Reid — the wife of Republican politician and New York Tribune editor Whitelaw Reid. Stanford White was again hired for the renovation, and he gave the room its French style.

Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC
Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC

The windows overlook Madison Avenue.

Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC
Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC

The paintings are by Pierre-Victor Galland and perhaps a tad precious by today’s standards.

Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC
Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC

Obviously, the carpet was added by the hotel or restaurant.

Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC
Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC

From here, we walked up the marble staircase to find what is perhaps the most spectacular room of all.

Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC
Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC

The library.

Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC
Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC

The library would have once had a table that ran the length of the room, according to Jablin. Here Whitelaw Reid would invite the heads of New York’s major publishing houses to discuss business. A testament to the room’s former use, the crests of publishing houses are imbedded into the ceiling.

Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC
Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC

The details are all in tact.

Photograph via the New York Palace hotel
Photograph via the New York Palace hotel

And it is pretty spectacular.

Photograph via the New York Palace hotel
Photograph via the New York Palace hotel

Finally, just down the hall is the second floor drawing room, which as you can see is currently being used for dinners.

Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC
Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC

This is one of many rooms that the land-lease holder, the Archdiocese of New York, used over the years. Most likely, the painting on the ceiling was dropped when modern lighting and air-conditioning was added.

Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC
Photograph by Siobhan Harrington for LLNYC

Still, the building has retained innumerable historic details.

Photograph via the New York Palace hotel
Photograph via the New York Palace hotel