The Payne Whitney Mansion, in all its Gilded Age glory, will be one of the historic spots unlocking its doors for Open House NY this weekend. The building has been partially open to the public over the years since the French Embassy purchased it in the 1950s; since late 2014, the rotunda and their French-language bookstore the Albertine have been open, and the Venetian Room, which was closed for renovation in 2018, has also just reopened. There are five floors of closed doors and hidden corners to explore, however, and three of those floors will be open this weekend. Visitors will be able to go up the stairs to the 2nd and 3rd floors, and also inside of the Marble and Ball Reception Rooms.

The whole space has some remarkable past; from a secret Michelangelo to Marilyn Monroe, history has continuously revealed itself over the years. For example, the sculpture originally at the entrance of the mansion was authenticated in the late 1990s as a Michelangelo—the embassy did not know they had a real Michelangelo in their building for around forty years! The original sculpture is now on consignment at the Met, so if you want to see it you'll have to hop over there. The one you'll see on display at the mansion now is a recreation.

Marilyn Monroe in the dress that was left at the French Embassy. (Courtesy of the French Embassy)

A lesser seen item that will be on display on the third floor this weekend is a dress worn by Marilyn Monroe. A rep tells us, "We found it in the mansion in the late '90s! The dress was found on the third floor, in the current conference room, which was before that the office of the assistant of the Cultural Counselor. It was kept in a box for many years. Two years ago, we got in touch with Sebastien Cauchon, author of Marilyn 1962 who helped us research and found out that she had worn the dress at least twice and found some photos." They are not sure how the dress ended up at the Embassy.

And be sure to check out John La Farge's stained glass "Autumn," between the second and third floor. The piece was unearthed—hidden behind a wall—during a renovation in the late 1980s (a decade where the mansion had a lot of work done). As the NY Times once reported, "Journalists followed every career move that John La Farge made. From the 1870s until his death in 1910, La Farge, a painter and stained-glass designer, produced thousands of windows as well as murals, landscapes and still lifes at his Greenwich Village workshops. Reporters would show up whenever he unveiled a new work, usually a stained-glass portrait of a saint or hero destined for a church or Gilded Age estate."

The Payne Whitney mansion in the early 1900s. (Courtesy of the NYPL)

The mansion was designed by Stanford White, with construction starting around 1902. It was built for Payne Whitney and his wife Helen, and was a gift from Payne's uncle, Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne. "The Colonel had put up $625,000 to build the five-storey mansion, the construction of which was still under White's supervision when he was murdered in 1906." White was murdered on the rooftop of the old Madison Square Garden by Harry Kendall Thaw, the millionaire who was married to Evelyn Nesbit, who years prior White had sexually assaulted. At the time of the assault, Nesbit was 16-years-old and unconscious; White was in his late 40s. The murder led to what was called "the trial of the century." The home wasn't completed until three years after the murder, in 1909.

A rep for the French Embassy tells us that there are "some rumors Gone With the Wind and Hitchcock’s Rebecca have scenes shot here, but we could never verify these facts."

You can learn more here, and at the tour this weekend. The landmarked mansion is located at 972 Fifth Avenue at 79th Street in Manhattan.