Cool days and cool nights, beginning to feel like autumn in New York
The Phipps House at Old Westbury Gardens
All about France and U.S. and some things being French. Last week the American Friends of Versailles had a three day New York Garden Tour for their members and supporters. Red carpets were rolled out and they began with a champagne reception at the French Embassy, which is located in the old McKim Mead & White-designed Payne Whitney mansion on Fifth Avenue just two doors down from East 79th Street (and next door to the old Duke mansion where Doris Duke grew up).

The reception was hosted by The Honorable Jean-Rene Gehan, the French Cultural Counselor to the US and Mrs. Jean-Rene Gehan, in the presence of His Excellency Jean-David Levitte, the French Ambassador to the US, as well as “in the presence of” as they say, of The Honorable Richard Duque, Consul General of France.

Invitation for the American Friends of Versailles' three day visit to New York
As well as being well plied with the vintage bubbly, the guests also had a tour of the house’s “Venetian Room” that was dismantled after Mrs. Whitney died and her son Jock Whitney sold the house in the mid-1940s. The room’s panels sat for another forty years in storage on the Whitney estate “Greentree” in Manhasset, until it was discovered and donated to the French. The Gould Foundation paid for the restoration and re-installation.

After cocktails the group went down the avenue to La Grenouille, the legendary French restaurant and had a splendid dinner. For all you Francophiles, it should be noted that the restaurant occupies the former home of Antoine de St. Exupery, author of Le Petit Prince (or The Little Prince to all us non-Francophiles who read — or were read) the book back in childhood (remember childhood?).

The guest of honor of the dinner was Mme. Nicole Salinger, esteemed author, philanthropist and co-chairman of Comite Francaise. Mme. Salinger’s name comes from her marriage to a famous American who emerged during the Kennedy era.

That was Monday. The next day, bright and early, everyone was taken on a tour of the New York Conservatory Garden, which happens to be Central Park’s only “formal” garden. This is the same place where the Conservancy holds its annual luncheon that has become the festival of the hats that you see photographed in the Social Diary every Maytime.

From there they traveled north to the Bronx for a luncheon at the New York Botanical Garden and a lecture by the distinguished landscape architect M. (as in monsieur) Christian Duvernois who had happens to be a scholar on “the historic bosquets at Versailles.”

Bosquets, for all us non-Francophiles out there is a grove, a thicket, an arbor. I know; I looked it up. Bosquets have come in handy right down through the ages, for a wide variety of reasons including the hatching of plots and of course, l’amour toujours (or maybe not even toujours but simply “today”) and they have not outgrown their usefulness although they’re harder and harder to come by in our burgeoning communities.
At the Park Avenue apartment of Martin and Audrey Gruss, from l. to r.: Mary McFadden, Audrey Gruss, Mrs. Winston Churchill, and Marilyn Miglin; Libby Horn and daughter Brittany Horn.
I mention all this because bosquets are the subtext of this New York Garden visit, the raison d’etre , if you'll pardon my French, at this time of the American Friends of Versailles. They are restoring the Bosquets Trois Fontaines (three fountains) that were designed and built by Louis XIV’s great gardener Le Notre in the latter part of the 17th century. And, like everything else at Versailles at the time of its construction, they were a wonder and magnificent.

Watercolor of the original les Trois Fontaines Bosquet at Versailles
After 1830, and the fall of the monarchy and the fall of Napoleon, the Trois Fontaines fell to ruin. The American Friends have been working on funding their restoration and they are now in their final phase which will be completed and celebrated next June 14 at a fantastic inaugural at Versailles. And that will be some fancy party, believe me.

Meanwhile, back to the Garden tour: After the lecture by M. Duvernois, the group were given a guided tour of the New York Botanical, our very own magnificent and wondrous gardens.

That evening they were entertained by Martin and Audrey Gruss for cocktails at their grand Park Avenue with its French overtones. And then off to Cartier where its chairman, the charming Mr. Stanislaus de Quercize hosted a private dinner for one and all. The Cartier mansion was built in the beginning of the last century for a very rich American named Morton Plant, whose widow sold it (for a million-dollar string of pearls) to the French jeweler.

The guests of honor at Cartier were Mr. and Mrs. Steven Rockefeller, Steven and Kimberly to their friends. The Rockfeller family is an important link between the US and Versailles. It was Steven’s great-grandfather John D. Rockefeller Jr. who, back in the 1920s, on a tour of France and the then long abandoned and deteriorating chateau of the Sun King, realized that Versailles was about to fall to entire ruin after more than a century (the 19th) of neglect. Being rich but practical (and a conscientious citizen of the world community) the first thing Mr. Rockefeller did to remedy the problem was to personally pay for the re-roofing of the palace.
A look around Old Westbury Gardens
Back to the tour: And then, the next day, last Wednesday a week, the guests were taken out to Long Island for a tour of Old Westbury Gardens and the Phipps Mansion.

The Gardens were created, along with the house and the rest of the 160-acre estate, in 1906 by Mr. and Mrs. John Phipps. Mr. Phipps’ father made the family fortune back in Pittsburgh with Mr. Carnegie and Mr. Frick. In those days they were all known as Robber Barons. Of course none of them lived long enough to see what real Robber Barons (late 20th-/early 21st-century style) look like.

Mrs. Howard Phipps Jr. and Catherine Hamilton
The family mansion is in the Charles II style, furnished with great fine antiques and decorative arts. The Phipps family occupied the place until well into the 1950s. After the house tour, everyone was treated to luncheon by Mrs. Howard Phipps Jr. at her own exquisite house and garden nearby.

Everyone loved Mrs. Phipps, for with all her pedigree of American-grand as you can get, she was a warm and friendly hostess, cheerful, enthusiastic as well as brimming with grace – the best flower in any garden. They came away brimming with nothing but kind words and wonder about not only the garden and the house, but especially the hostess.

And if that weren’t enough for one day,
it was off to another garden tour not so far from Mrs. Phipps – that of Dr. Sherrell and Muffie Potter Aston’s grand, traditional English garden surrounded with boxwood, fountains, a formal rose garden, a Japanese garden and greenhouses. Dr. Aston, if you don’t know by now (and in case you’re in the market) is one of America’s most esteemed plastic surgeons and the man credited (now in legend) with having made Pamela Harriman beautiful in the last two decades of her life.
Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Forbes and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Forbes hosted a dinner at the Forbes Galleries, from l. to r.: Jay Krehbiel, Teresa Reggi, and William Graham; Nora O'Conner, Adrien Meyer, and Diana Odasso.

This column is turning out to be far more leisurely than the “tour,” so I’m gonna cut to the chase:

After the Astons’, it was on to another great garden and then back to Manhattan for cocktails and then finally a dinner at the Forbes Corporate Headquarters on lower Fifth Avenue. That’s where I joined the tour (for the meal).

Mary McFadden

The dinner was hosted by two of the sons and heirs of Malcolm Forbes, and their wives: Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Forbes and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Forbes, at the Forbes Galleries which is on the ground floor of the magazine’s headquarters.

The Forbeses are a remarkable family.
Probably no one can quite match the brilliant enthusiasm and joie de vivre of their father (son of the founder) but all of the sons exhibit a good degree of his enthusiasm for all kinds of things cultural. The Galleries are home to a collection of more than 2009 Faberge objets d’art, including a dozen of the famous Russian Imperial Easter Eggs. But that’s only one of the permanent exhibits.

There’s a display case, for example, of maquettes of the family’s yachts, all called The Highlander, that progressed in size and luxury as Malcolm Forbes progressed himself, in business. From small to very very large and all fascinating to the imagination. The Forbes Gallery is not a museum, but it is. It’s not a man’s, a family’s home, but it is a bit. in feeling. Infinitely intriguing, like its possessors. And welcoming, like it’s possessors.

There were four or five tables of eight at the dinner. I sat between a very sweet woman from Dallas and a very aristocratic Frenchwoman from Paris. My French dinner partner spoke English with only the tiniest trace of accent. I asked her why: she’d grown up in a family that spoke English all the time. So too with her children, two of whom live here in New York.

David Hamilton, who with his wife Catherine have been prime movers of the AfoV restoration of Trois Fontaines, spoke about their efforts and the official actualization of the objective next June at Versailles. Chicagoans, albeit big travelers, the Hamiltons also have a chateau in France that once belonged to another American, Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan.

Lucas Granillo Ocambo, Benjamin Meyer, Courtney Clein, and Brittany Horn

Hamilton turned the floor to his wife Catherine, who thanked everyone for their support and contributions. She pointed out that Versailles had a cultural relationship to the world, and one which figured profoundly prominently in the founding of the United States. It was at Versailles that Benjamin Franklin was able to garner political and thus financial support for the American Revolution. That support was decisive in the American victory over the British rule, and ironically it was partly that support that brought about the economic failures that accelerated the end of the French monarchy.

It was also pointed out that after the initial roof-repair of John D. Rockefeller Jr., many other Americans over the next seventy years followed and took the lead. The American contributions, with continual French government contributions, much of which were raised by an American woman named Florence van der Kemp and her Dutch husband, Gerald, have largely restored the chateau to its present state.

Talk turned to politics, natch. The French, unlike us, are not so inflamed or insulted by political discussions full of disagreements. There was no argument, however, only discussion and observation.

My dinner partner from Paris marveled at the American commitment to doing things for the community. She was referring to the Park, to the Botanical Garden, not to mention the Versailles restoration. She thought it was just wonderful, and so unlike the Europeans who just naturally expect the government to take care of the matter.

Mme. Anne-Marie de Ganay with her sons Benjamin and Adrien Meyer

She was impressed by the volunteering. I pointed out that it was a communal concept born out of the early Massachusetts Colony and the English Puritans who couldn’t have survived and flourished without it. And, as it was once pointed out to me, pure commune-ism, before others got their hands on the word and used it for their own aggrandizement. Community and helping one another. That is precisely what the Hamiltons and the American Friends had in mind in finding a way to keep the beautiful aspects of history before us.

So there I was, dining in this tall, large room, its dark green walls populated by framed pictures, oils, watercolors, photographs, of varying sizes, of images and vistas around the Forbes family chateau in France; there I was surrounded by a diverse group of Americans, and some French, well aware of the good fortune we all had just being a part of this great international cultural project.

To date, the American Friends of Versailles have raised $2.5 million for the restoration of the Bosquets Trois Fontaines. They need to raise another $750,000 over the next year to complete the project. Although the French government spends enormous sums on Versailles, the Americans project that would not have been undertaken with our assistance.

The American Friends of Versailles
100 East Walton Street
Suite 6W
Chicago, Illinois 60611
fax 312-787-1640

Guests were taken out to Long Island for a tour of Old Westbury Gardens and the Phipps Mansion
On the steps of Old Westbury Gardens. Front row (l. to r.): Michelle Fieschi-Fuoan, Amiee Maroney, Cati Stapelton, Tennessee McNaughton, Carol Large, Catharine Hamilton. Second row (l. to r.): Elizabeth Stafford, William Maroney, Patrick Coulson, Donna Jose, Elizabeth Segerstrom, Kay Krehbiel, Nancy Traylor, Joanne du Pont Foster, Sandy Getz, Anne-Marie de Ganay, Arnaud de Minvielle. Back row (l. to r.): Norah O'Connor, Irene Roosevelt Aitken, Jonathan Marder, Kristin Smith, Christian Duvernois, Nancy Nadler, Fran Schork, Bonnie Deutsch, Libby Horn, Mary Phipps, Henry Segerstrom, Carol Lee, Harvey Sobel, and Mrs. William Gilliland.
Sandy Getz, Catharine Hamilton, Bonnie Deutsch, and Nancy Nadler
Kristin Smith

Lunching at the Lotus Club
Michele Fieschi-Fouan and Courtney Cline
Francine LeFrak Friedberg and Catherine Hamilton
Nicole Salinger and Vicomte de Rohan
Courtney Cline and Jonathan Marder

The guests were entertained by Martin and Audrey Gruss for cocktails at their grand Park Avenue apartment
Audrey Gruss and Carolyn Farb
Becca Thrash, Mrs. Laurel Emmett, and Carole Lee
Betty Conner_and Melinda Hassen
Frank Schork and Mrs. William Gilliland
Catharine Hamilton, Mrs. Winston Churchill, Victoria Wyman, and Francine LeFrak Friedberg
Courtney Cline and Jay Krehbiel
Anne-Marie de Ganay and Mrs. Benjamin Franklin Stapleton
Mrs. Winston Churchill, Nicole Salinger, and Winston Churchill
L. to r.: Kay Krehbiel and Zibby Tozer; Sharon Hoge
Henry and Elizabeth Segerstrom
Thom Middlebrook, Michelle Fieschi-Fouan, and Bonnie Deutsch
Mrs. Betty Conner, Jay Krehviel, Courtney Cline, Nora O'Connor, and C.C. Marsh
Catherine Hamilton and Greg Hedberg
Anne-Marie de Ganay and Arnaud de Minvielle
Sandy Getz and Evelyn Bell


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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/