Consulate Celebrates 50 Years
From France Amerique
By John Louis Turlin
934 Fifth Avenue is doubtless the best known address for French
New Yorkers. For 50 years, it has been the residence of the French
On the third of December, Richard Duqué, Frances consulate
general to New York, celebrated the anniversary with the American
French community. Exactly a half century ago, in December 1952,
the French consulate relocated to the five-story hotel at 934 Fifth
Avenue. The building had been obtained by the French Republic in
1942. The war explains the gap of ten years between the two dates.
March 25, 1942: The French consul, not comfortable in the place
he has been renting since 1933 on 610 Fifth Avenue, in the prestigious,
but expensive, Rockefeller Center, buys a building, twenty-five
blocks to the north, facing Central Park. The address: 934 Fifth
This very beautiful mansion, constructed in 1926 by the architects
Alexander Walker and Leon Gillette for the financial figure Charles
Mitchell, was occupied by J.P. Morgan & Co in 1939 after the
bankruptcy of its owner. Mitchell was a victim of the 1929 stock
Thus, France invested in a New York building for the first time
since the beginning of its diplomatic representation on the Hudson.
France opened its first foreign consulates in 1783 (in contrast
to popular belief, the consulate of the Netherlands was not created
until the following year).
New York, in fact, was not home to the first French consulate in
the United States: That honor was given to Philadelphia, the first
capital (New York followed it in 1791 and Washington in 1802). Signed
in 1778, the treaty of friendship and of commerce between France
and the United States created, in the same year, the first French
consulate in the new republic. Boston and Baltimore followed in
1779, then Charleston and New York in 1783.
A century and half later, New York had become
New York. The
importance of the consulate was measured by the importance of the
city and the district that groups together New York State, Connecticut
and New Jersey, as well as the Bermudas. But in 1942, when the offices
in Rockefeller Center became too small, the French state was led
by Marshal Pétain and a government that was the Vichy system
In November 11 of the same year, Washington put an end to diplomatic
relations with the government of Marshal Pétain. Switzerland
represented Frances diplomatic interests at that time.
But in 1943, consular affairs were resumed by a new authority claiming
the legitimacy of the French state: the free France. The representation
didnt become official until President Roosevelt again recognized
the French government under General DeGaulle. However, the consulate
did not leave the Rockefeller offices for eight more years. In 1945,
the cultural services of the French Embassy moved to 934 Fifth Avenue.
The full transfer took place in 1952, after the purchase of another
hotel at 972 Fifth Avenue, a building that belonged to the Payne
Whitney family. Cultural services are still located there.
In December of the same year, the consulate moved to the Mitchell
residence without modifying the rooms behind the classical facade,
except for changing a vast bedroom into offices (those of the secretariat
of the consulate general and general assistant consul, the furnishings
of the consulate general were preserved from the previous location).
For 50 years, the style of this palatial residence, inspired by
the Parisian decorative arts of the beginning of the twentieth century,
have been faithfully preserved. There have been two architectural
changes: in 1955, the construction of a new building at 932 Fifth
Avenue led to the removal of a dining room fireplace, and in 1964,
additions to the ministry of justice took out the fresco painting
on the wall at the bottom of the entrance hall.
But the new decoration gives honor to the pasts splendor.
The marble of the lobby reinforces the buildings Italian Renaissance
feel, and the pink living room is a triumph, with its superb luster
a lot more imposing than the original its damask silk
rugs, and its majestic French windows overlooking Central Park.
The consulate, considering everything, is a display window, more
like a museum, worthy to the image of France in the United States
best known city.
Translated from French by Elias Saber.
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