Who knew that watching SNAKE INVADERS could be so addictive? But I’ve procrastinated enough. On to part deux of my Open House New York experience.
Site #3 – Ukrainian Institute of America. Also known as the Sinclair House on 79th and 5th Ave. I’d admired this building every time I made my way to the Met. Its imposing facade did not seem inviting though so I never ventured in. When I saw that it was part of the roster for OHNY, I could not resist the chance to peek into this wonderful piece of architecture.
Our guide through the house was the program director who was superbly well versed in every historic detail right down to the cost of electrical upgrades of the mansion. I did not catch his name but he was an impeccably dressed young guy who looked like he walked off the set of Mad Men. He was so generous and knowledgeable in his narration, it blew me away.
Designed by the notable architect C.P.H Gilbert, the mansion evokes a French Gothic style. It was commissioned by Isaac Fletcher in 1898 and bought by Henry Sinclair, an oil baron in 1920. It subsequently was sold to August Stuyvesant who eventually left the house in disrepair upon his death in the 50′s. William Dzus, a Ukrainian businessman and philanthropist swooped in to buy the property for the equivalent of $1.5 million in today’s currency! (Speaking of great deals, did you know that Peter Stuyvesant purchased the island of Manhattan from the Lenape tribe for $24 in 1626? It’s debatable, but don’t you wish that you had $24 back in 1626?… hmmm…) Mr. Dzus founded the Ukrainian Institute of America and it continues its mission today of promoting Ukrainian art and culture.
A grand central stair sweeps up from the main foyer and winds through the core of the house. The circulation divides the house into an east and west wing. Like many other grand old houses of its era, there was a narrow stairway in back for servants so that they could move around without being seen or heard . Each room had a call button designed into the woodwork that would send for the servants. And oh, how ornate the woodwork is too; lions heads adorn the archways and delicate wooden tendrils swirl up along the bannisters.
I did not jot down the original program of each room but I believe the drawing room was on the first floor, followed by the main bedrooms and parlor on the second and finally library on the third floor. The general public is allowed to wander freely through the first 3 floors of the building. There are 2 more higher floors which housed the servants quarters and children’s bedrooms but now are accessible only by staff.
A unique feature that our guide pointed out to us were the 200lb solid wood doors that are original to the building. The hinges from 1898 are the still the same ones that are used today! (IKEA, can you take note please?) Also of interest is the oval (powder ?)room that connected the husband’s and the wife’s rooms. Four curved doors are built into the wall and each of them still function. That is some quality workmanship.
Okay, last interesting item to note: the built-in scale in the bathroom! How marvelous, yet slightly intimidating. I guess this is how you set the pressure on for squeezing into those Victorian era corsets.
Dear readers, I highly recommend stopping by this gorgeous historic landmark when you’re in the area next. Appearances are deceiving. What I took to be stand-offish building is in fact a very welcoming warm cultural center. They do offer tours and hold public exhibitions and programs throughout the year. Not to be missed!