These houses were built for Henry Villard in 1884 by architecture firm McKim, Mead & White three years after they started their company.
Now the Villard Mansion is occupied by The New York Palace hotel, combining the historic landmark with a modern 55-story tower.
Henry Villard was born in 1835 in Bavaria, Germany. At the age of 18, he decided to leave his childhood home and venture to America. Villard settled in the German area of Illinois in 1854, where he soon met Abraham Lincoln through a cousin. Villard became a writer and editor of numerous publications. For the next twenty years, Villard entered into numerous railroad ventures with business associates including Cornelius Vanderbilt. In 1881, he purchased the land across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral for $260,000.
The rumor was that the funds came in a single night's winnings at gaming. Villard took the largest of the 6 houses , his residence occupying the entire right wing. But before the home was completed, Villard's railroad empire crashed and he sold the house to the Republican politician Whitelaw Reid, who finished the home and moved into the wing. The wing remained in the Reid family until 1935, later serving several different uses during World War II.
All six houses were purchased by Harry Hemsley in 1974. Helmsley (1909 – 1997) was an American businessman, the one of the biggest property holders in the United States.
In the spring of 1974, Harry Helmsley proposed a 55-story hotel for the site of the Villard Houses called The Helmsley Palace Hotel. To construct his hotel tower, Helmsley hired Emery Roth & Sons, who created its design of dark bronze reflective glass and anodized aluminum to blend with the Villard Houses and Manhattan's surrounding skyline. Emery Roth & Sons was a family-run architecture firm that had a major influence on the post-war development of Manhattan. Helmsley Palace Hotel opened in 1981 and was operated by Helmsley until 1992.
The original building was restored in 2003 and office space was furnished for city preservation group The Municipal Art Society, as part of an agreement to save the building from demolition. Michael Bloomberg showed up at a hotel grand opening party. The face-lift was done to the tune of $140 million.
Today, the mansion boasts exquisite interiors coated in green marble, bronze décor, coffered ceilings, gold touches, and romantic mosaics. A dramatic two-story Renaissance-style Gold Room, entirely covered with gold and built as a music room with a balcony for an ideal performance stage is uses now as a bar room in the "Villard Michel Richard" restaurant. You can have American breakfast with two eggs, bacon and potatoes for $34 in the room where high tea was served.
Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave, the great-granddaughter of Henry Villard visited the hotel this year. She said: I was first brought to the house when I was seven years old and told, “Now this is what you can achieve with courage, perseverance, and hard work.” To me, the house has always stood as a symbol of Henry Villard’s greatest dreams."