The Consulate General of Italy in New York (690 Park Avenue)
The Consulate General of Italy has a history that intertwines with the migration of Italians and stories of past generations. You can find traces of its memory in old encyclopedias, in survivors’ stories and yellowed paperwork. Sometimes it was not possible to find missing mosaic tiles, while on ther occasions evidence is discordant. Its relationship with the historical events and with the birth and evolution of the Italian community in the area makes it important and valuable to know its history and preserve its memory.
The history of the building
In the aftermath of the First World War, the Consulate General of Italy in New York was located in the Rockefeller Center, according to the plan of the owner who had appointed a number of sections for the representation of the winners of war. Along Fifth Avenue it is still possible to read the inscription “Italy” on one of the four buildings that makes up the facade of The Rockefeller Center, where for a long lapse of time remained affixed with the fascism’s emblem (Fascio Littorio), now removed, and where you can admire the door of the Italian sculptor Pio Manzù.
At the conclusion of the Second World War, when the headquarters in Midtown had become unfit for use, the Consulate found a temporary accommodation on 84th street, between Madison and Fifth Avenue. It was however an unsuitable accommodation, because the premises were small and not very functional, while the people who turned to the Consulate were numerous, especially after a conflict of such a magnitude which imposed consular offices countless tasks: requests for news about family and assets left in Italy, requests for regularization of marital status or assistance to the many Italian citizens who had left the peninsula in previous years.
The Consulate remained on 84th street for about five years. Later, because of the increasingly massive presence of Italians in America and the manifest inadequacy of the premises available, a new accommodation was searched. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had given Consul General Mazio the task of finding a new building. Oral tradition states that the discovery of the headquarters occurred in a totally random way. It seems, in fact, that Consul Mazio’s wife had met an old college mate in New York, who, when hearing about the search for new premises, proposed her a building at 690 Park Avenue that her family had just received as an inheritance.
Henry P. Davison House
The Consulate General of Italy in New York is located at 690 Park Avenue since July 1955.
The seat is part of a block, known as Pyne-Davison Blockfront, composed of four Federal Revival residences between 68th and 69th street. Built between 1909 and 1926, these residences have then progressively been appointed to carry out the functions of hosting the Americas Society (the first Center for Inter-American Relations), the Spanish Institute, the Italian Cultural Institute and the Consulate General of Italy in New York. Although the buildings were constructed individually, they present a unified and uniform look: every house is made of Flemish red brick, with the entry and the base made of rustic limestone and balustrade cornices made out of stone.
The numbers 680 and 684 were designed by McKim, Mead & White and the number 686 by Delano & Aldrich. Number 690 was designed by Walker & Gillette (1916-1917) for Henry Pomeroy Davison, one of the founders of Bankers Trust. The construction of these houses reflect the development of Park Avenue as a prestigious area after the avenues’s railroad track went underground around 1910.
Immediately after completion, the building at 690 became the residence of Henry Pomeroy Davison and his family. The building, while uniform with the style of the block, differs from it because of the stone masonry and the main entrance. The entrance on Park Avenue is flanked by two windows in rustic stone placed rather at the bottom. The second floor has three finely framed windows with shutters that run along the entire length of the plan. The third and fourth floor windows are of normal height with double shutters. Those placed on the third floor are covered with thin brick arches with keystone made out of stone.
The main entrance is flanked by two Ionic columns with a semi-arc on top. The front door, recalling Georgian styles and forms, presents a stone modeled vault, enriched by a thick double keystone. This frames the pair of heavy wooden doors, painted in black, and topped by a glass arch.
The windows with shutters of the second floor start directly from the rustic cornice of the first floor and present framings and finely made stone decorations. The central window is adorned with a gable and volute decorations on both sides. The cornice of the two side windows is decorated on top by special bronze motif, depicting sphinxes that are guarding a central urn.
A strip of limestone separates the fourth floors from lower ones and on it are incorporated the sills of four windows. The facade of the fourth floor is decorated with a simple frame, topped by a balustrade parapet. A penthouse, with a copper base, hides behind the parapet.
To the left of the main entrance on Park Avenue a garage stops the limestone band that forms the basis of the facade, with two large wooden doors painted in black. The wrought iron fence, which runs along the wall facing Park Avenue, brings the entrance to the garage into relief with a lantern on the top supported by a wrought iron arch.
Historical Building of New York City
In 1970 the Landmark Preservation Commission has declared the number 690 Historical Building of the city of New York, by virtue of its historical and aesthetic values as part of development, inheritance and cultural characteristics of New York City.
The Commission acknowledged that, among its important qualities, Henry P. Davison House is a prestigious example of the New York townhouse (residential town palace, a typical element of the New York’s architecture), built for a prominent family of the town society at the beginning of the twentieth century, and represents an excellent example of neo-Federal architecture with Georgian nuances, whose characteristics and details show a very high level of care and finesse. This home, prestigious and historical, helps to give prestige to our country on American soil.