LESLIE R. SAMUELS, the philanthropist, looked around at his drawing room -- 50 feet long, 20 feet wide, 22 feet high, covered floor to ceiling with 17th-century pine paneling, cornices. Corinthian pilasters, cornucopiaed overmantel, marble fireplace surround (all from Spettisbury Manor in England), matching crystal chandeliers (mostly from Waterford), Coromandel screens, gilt-frame mirrors, rugs specially woven in Portugal, Chinese figurines and tasseled curtains.
"Let's go up to the sitting room where we can be confortable," he said.
The elevator with the Chinese scroll on its sliding door took us up to the more intimate quarters on the third floor.
"Every night when my wife [Fran Fox Samuels] was alive, we'd dress for dinner. We'd have our drinks in the drawing room, and then, after dinner, we'd come up here," Samuels said. He led the way into a sitting room smaller but no less grand then the drawing room.
This 16-by22-foot room has an oak-beam ceiling and polychromed walls in the Louis XIII taste (1610-43). It came from the Chateau de Courcelles in Sarthe, northwest France. The fireplace has the original briques from Feucherolles and a parquet floor from the Cateau de la Muette.
Samuels sat at the handsome card table while he talked. Two other chairs, though soft and inviting, have white satin covers, far too fancy to sit in. Samuels is 82 now, though he looks several decades younger. He skips up and down the stairs with the air of one half his age.
Samuels has been described as a very private man. He maintains his privacy by genially telling you what he wants you to know instead of answering questions. His caution is understandable. He and hw wife have been major philanthropists.
For the benefit of the Samuels Foundation, the triplex and its contents are being sold by Southeby Parke Bernet, according to Edward Lee Cave, chairman of Southby's International Realty Corp.
The triplex encompasses the second, third and fourth floors of 66o Park Avenue at 67th Street, with its own door at 666 Park Avenue. The quarters are for sale for $9 million. The monthly maintenance charge alone is $6,423.30.
The contents will be actioned off for an expected $2.5 million to $3 million in October. Cave said it took 22 experts to catalogue it all -- six just for the porcelain.
The 22-year-old Samuels Foundation, among other philanthropies, in the last five years gave $5 million to Lincoln Center and is giving $8 million to reconstruct the New York State Theater and the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Fan Fax Samuels was an heir of the G. Fox Department Store in Hartford. fSamuels had also owned a departmet store, his in Ogden, Utah. They were married in 1940, after the death of her first husband, Fred Auerbach, and moved to New York in that year.
Sotheby's is planning a benefit reception soon at the triplex. The other day, when the subject came up of who would benefit from the reception, Samuels excused himself for a minute. When he cam back, he said, "I talked to Bev [Beverly Sills] ahd she'll be delighted if we do it for the New York State Opera Company.
We've known her since she was a little girl. She was called Bubbles. We knew her coach, Estelle Liebling. Every time we went to Estelle's, we'd have to listen to Bubbles before Estelle would give us anything to eat. People should always have the entertainment after dinner."
Samuels said he and his wife moved into the triplex in 1952 "after we'd spend three years remodeling it. We'd lived across from the Le Pavillon for years -- we used to go over there for dinner every night. But after we'd redecorated our old apartment, my wife looked at it, and said, 'I hate it.' So we sold it to Isabelle Levy. Someone showed us this place and my wife said right away, 'We'll take it.'"
The triplex apartmet, or maisonette as it is sometimes called, was built in 1927 to the design of York & Sawyer, one of those grand establishments built in that opulent decade before the crash. The apartment was owned before the Samuels by industrialist Seton Porter, who installed in the principal rooms most of the elabrate European boisere (woodwork), all removed from the walls of acient European chateaus and mansions.
In the '20s, American architects and their wealthy clients had a madness for removing the architectural artifacts of Europe to the new buildings of the New World. Marjorie Merriweather Post's Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. and William Randolph E Hearst's San Simeon, north of Los Angeles, Ca., are the most extreme examples of great portions of European buildings moved intact to the United States. In Washington, the best known interior woodwork imported from a European building is the drawing room installed in the Corcoran Gallery.
Samuels has moved to a smaller apartment in the Waldorf Towers since his wife's death April 16. "It's furnished in Arizona Motel Modern," said Samuels.
Cave looked horrified. Mr. Samuels has elected some very nice pieces to keep."
"Well, I did take a few things to hang on the wall," said Samuels.
"I counldn't stay her any longer after she died," Samuels said. "Everything here we bought together. We were always together. We agonized over every ashtry, every piece of porcelain. We traveled all over looking for beautiful things. See this rug; we commissioned it from the Countess de Mafia, who had an orphanage or something in Portugal. We have duplicates of many of the rugs. Expecially in the dining room, you know, you have to have one to put down when you send the other to be cleaned."
Smauels took us in to see his own bedroom adoining the sitting room. Cave thought it the most charming in the house. "It's a rare 1680 East meets West," said Cave. The Louis XIII room is also from teh Chateau de Courcelles. Its Polychromed decorations are in the Chinoiserie manner, the European imitation of the Chinese motifs. Each panel is centered with a Chinese scene or portrait. The overmantel, of rough stone, painted, is carved with an armorial device.
Samuels' single bed, with its green spread, looks almost plain in the elaborate room. His bath is covered with black fleur de lis and has brass fixtures and trim.
The coudior that Fan Fox Samuels used is separated from the husband's by the sitting room, sometimes called the medallion room because of its decorations. He 16-by19-foot bedroom is paneled with Louis XV boiserie . "We had to have it put in twice," said Samuels. "Because of the fire laws, it had to be put flush agains the metal lathing.
The bed is set in a regal manner against a wall draped with an elaborately tasseled swag. In a hidden closet is seven tons of air conditioning equipment for the adjacent rooms. Most of the lower floor has window air conditioners. Her adjacent bathroom is lined with mirrors.
The hall off the bedroom is filled with bookcases. They once held Sotheby catalogues, some of them so old, Cave said, even Sotheby didn't have them all. Samuels gave the catalogues to Sotheby's. "It's the first time anyone ever gave us anything," Cavie said.
A marvelous spiral staircase, the kind architect Don Lethbridge describes as being "from the movie of the same name," leads down to an office on the mezzanine, and from there to the main floor. The elaborate gold-leafed mirror came over on an airplane with its own seat ticket.
Cave led the way to the library with its paneling from Grosvenor Square in London. Niches in the corner hold some of the extensive porcelain collection. Six Chinese paintings are executed on mirrors with European pictures, obviously copied without understanding.
Next to the library is a small card room, just big enough for two couples.
Cave said the English mahogany chest of drawers and Sheraton console among other important pieces should bring high prices. "English furniture has tripled in price in the last three years; it's almost up to the French," he said.
The dining room is reached from the drawing room through a small hall with a handsome 1763 George II inlaid walnut harpsichord. The dining room, 20 by 27 feet, is Italian in feeling with an Itanian Neo-Classical parcel gilt [partially gilded] and painted commode in the sarcophagus form, and late 18th-century Italian Rococo carved and gilt-decorated wood torcheres .
After Samuels had left, Maria Carle, one of the Samuels' 12 employes, came to check the dining room, before a group came to see the house. Carle was the upstairs chambermaid and valet de chambre, as she described herself. She said that the Samuels family often had 20 for dinner in the room. "We'd bring up the large table top from the basement. Mrs. Samuels could only have 22. But she had everything for that number, service plants and all. For 20 people, she'd have five waiters for the table. She liked to do everthing right. She was very precise. At first I didn't think so much about it, but before long I was happy to do everthing the right way, the way she wanted it.
"Mrs. Samuels was a great one for routine. Every morning they'd have breakfast at 11:30. He'd eat down here, but Mrs. Samuels would have her upstairs.They never ate lunch. Then they'd read their mail and then go out window shopping in their car with the chaffeur, or perhaps to some exhibit. They liked to come back with some little pretty things for the hosue. Then he'd have his massage and they'd dress for dinner or some show."
Cave, who is also trying to sell in New York the former John D. Rockefeller apartment for $10,600,000 and the Otto Preminger townhouse for $5,300,000, said: "We don't expect to sell the Samuels triplex to a European. They want steel, glass and a fabulous view. They already have chateaus like this. I doubt we'll get a foreign government to buy it. Probably somebody from Dallas. It really isn't a New York apartment. It demands a certain way of life from you. It's for someone who wants to live in the grandest manner.
"Peter Wilson [the retired chairman of Sotheby Internation] who is coming out of retirement to auction the contents, flew over from France to see the triplex," said Cave. "He said it wouldn't be possible to duplicate these 14 rooms today. The Samuels were citizens of the world at a time when you could make a collection like this."