Thursday, September 29, 2011

Self-Proclaimed "Princess" destroys 294 Genesee Street

The genteel and elegant interiors of 294 Genesee St, The former "Catholic Women's Club", was gutted by the infamous "Faux Princess," Diana Lenska. 

The hand carved Carrara Marble fireplaces, of which there were 6 throughout the house, were ripped from their chimney mounts where they have resided since construction in the 1850's.

The Roccoco Pier and Overmantel Mirrors-gone. In their place is crumbling grey plaster and exposed lathe.

 The crowning glory of the mansion, the electrified gasoliers, that have hung from the ornate center medallions since Lincoln was in the White House, vanished. Everything was bundled on a huge moving van and shipped to secret destinations.

The Mansion is a shell of its former self. All the stunning achievements in architecture and decor installed by the original owner, Orasmus Mattison, are but a memory.

 Mattison, a Congressman, was unseated by Roscoe Conkling. He was so upset by the loss that he set about to build the finest mansion in Utica. He imported plate glass from France, installed ridiculously ornate chandeliers and had silver plated door knobs and hinges installed on the 8 ft high rosewood doors.

Numerous craftsmen who had worked on some of Washington's finest landmarks traveled to Utica to carve woodwork, build the rosewood doors and run some of the most beautiful and ornate plaster ceilings ever seen in this region!

All of that is now gone-ripped from our city by a greedy and pretentious woman who rode into town on the proverbial "high horse." She proclaimed that she was a Princess and at first, she talked a good game.

She was connected, it appeared, to a Hong Kong billionare. Paul Kan was the reputed "Bill Gates" of the Orient. He paid cash for the mansion and had his Princess begin plans to hold court there.

I was introduced to her one day in City Hall when Angelo Roefaro, the Mayor's Assistant at the time, called to breathlessly tell me "come quick, Princess Diana is here!"

Anticipating yet another City Hall crackpot, I strode down to the Mayors office to find an Ivana Trump look-a-like in a red and black velour running suit (this outfit would reappear on occasions too numerous to mention.)

Her heavily made up face was crowned with cotton-candy hair dyed a color not found in nature. She demurely held out her hand, introduced herself, and eyed me up and down as if waiting for me to bow in her presence.

I did not.

After explaining that her "benefactor" had purchased the mansion for her, she coyly asked if there was any "help" the city could provide.

At this point, I was a bit suspicious but still curious. I mean, she did have the key to the huge front doors of 294 Genesee St!

The Catholic Women's Club was a structure that I knew well. Several years ago, when I owned and operated Thornberry's, we had catered a luncheon there for the ladies. I was stunned by the beauty and grandeur of the place. It was exquisite when done up for a party. I thought, why not cater here for regular folks?

I approched the ladies with a proposal. We would cater events at the mansion and give them a fee for the use of the place. We also agreed to have our restaurant staff help with some of the maintenance that was so badly needed.

It was a perfect arrangement!  We catered weddings, communion luncheons, christmas parties and even political fundraisers there. Every one who attended an event was flabbergasted by the sheer elegance and historical ambiance of the place.

One day, we were told the women had made a decision-they wanted to sell the place. I was devestated and had a terrible fear that this fragile beauty would eventually meet a cruel and destructive fate.

I never thought it would be at the hands of a......Princess!

In any event, the place was sold, much of the original furnishings, including two life sized portraits of the bible characters "Ruth and Rachael" that flanked the front parlor fireplace, were removed. Even nearly empty now, the home still had the look and feel of a grand French Salon or a Washington Embassy. It was truly a remarkable place.

The mansion was eventually purchased by a man from California, John Kane. He had envisioned a high end B&B at the location. At the selling price of 180k, compared to the price of something similar in California (if it could even be had) it was a bargain.

Several years after the purchase, his plans seemed to fall through. His two sisters, who had been residing on site, moved out and the place was empty. Talk of  his selling the artifacts filtered throughout the town and into City Hall, where I was now Commissioner of the Urban & Economic Development Department. I was obsessed with the possible destruction of the interiors and worked tirelessly to try and find someone who could save it.

Enter the Princess. It was wierdly surreal that, after so long trying to match a buyer with the building, that almost overnight someone appeared that seemed to have access to the capital needed to stabilize and preserve it.

I was doubtful about her claim of "Royalty." She seemed more like an aging "Real Housewife of New Jersey" than a European Princess. The city helped her out with a small facade grant so that she could stabilize the exterior. 

Then the O.D. discovered her. It was all downhill from there.

A local reporter, Jen Bogden, did a story that insinuated the Princess may be a "fake." It seemed that no one from the Polish Embassy in Washington had ever heard of her. In any event, they said, Poland does not recognize royalty, so her claims meant nothing to the Polish Government.

Almost overnight, her financial backers vanished. She had contributed to them "losing face," an Asian equivelent of being branded a loser or worse!

She blamed the O.D. for destroying her mission. She struggled and appealed to the Polish Community for help. She was profiled by Cassandra Harris Lockwood, publisher of the Utica Phoenix. She announced in this front page article that the shame and scandal that her Asian benefactors had suffered at the hands of Utica and the O.D.had to be undone if she was to be able to stay in Utica. The mansion would have to be sold and she would leave town if they did not feel vindicated.

At one point, she did begin to assemble a team of local supporters. She mounted an exibition of important polish World War 2 memoribilia. She seemed to be gaining a toehold in our community. She held elegant teas and parties with the requisite dose of high drama well suited for a royal living in Utica.

Then, she disappeared.

What happens next is not clear but it appears that there may have been a health issue. In any event, it all lead to the events of today-destruction of the Mansion interiors and the all but certain eventual demolition of the landmark.

The question is-why? Cassandra Harris-Lockwood claims she had  approached Lenska weeks ago to let her know that, if the rumors of her selling the contents of the mansion were true, The landmarks Society could step in and assist in preventing that radical decision.

That never happened. Everyone was caught off guard by what happened today. We had thought, maybe the light fixtures and possibly a mirror or two could be removed and sold. We never, ever thought that the complete and total dismantling of the entire interior could ever be a possibility!

I realize today that, at one point in time, I was perceived as "supporting" her claim of royalty. I never could prove or disprove it. I always was a bit suspicious and thought it was a stretch at best, but I truly didn't care. Utica is full of colorful people that have delusions of who they are and where they come from. We had a Contessa that shopped on Mohawk St, a Priest with a thick Irish brogue that was born in Kossuth Ave. and numerous people walking around downtown believing that they came from Venus. 

This case was different. She had the deed to the palace! Unfortunately, she ultimately was the one who destroyed it.

What follows is a letter that I hastily penned after the destruction was revealed. i think it says it all.

Diana Lenska
294 Genesee St
Utica N.Y. 13502 Sept. 29, 2011
RE: Catholic Women’s Club destruction
Ms. Lenska,
To say that I am shocked by the destruction of this stunning landmark at your hands is the most egregious understatement that I will ever utter in my life. Appalling and wanton destruction that left me physically nauseated and emotionally devastated. You should be ashamed of your actions and, if it was possible, be brought up on charges for desecrating a nationally significant landmark.
There is absolutely NOTHING you could say, no excuse, no reason, to carryout the deed you have done. 
Revenge- that is the only reason I can think of. 
Revenge against Utica, the Observer Dispatch, the citizens of our city, revenge against anyone you can think of. And, why would you carry out this twisted and sick plot to punish a place you have called home, a place where some people did support you? Because you were not treated like the “royalty” you fancy yourself to be!
Let me say this-no one with a drop of royal blood in their veins would have allowed the destruction of your “tidy little palace,” as it was referred to once in a Phoenix article. Yes, the same paper that supported you, defended you, and helped you when you arrived and were not regally welcomed in the manner that you were so accustomed to.
For to carry out this act, you have doomed the future of this important and historic structure, for now it is worthless. It will either be vandalized and stripped of any thing left of value or remodeled into an office building that cannot possibly hint at the grand past that you have so callously wiped away for your own greed and profit.
And, you han no right to come into this town and carry out such an act! I do not believe that you even paid for the structure with your own money! And, if Mr. kan or anyone else instructed you to do this senseless and shocking deed, they too will be exposed for this travesty.
What will Mr. Kan say about “face” when, throughout the world, he is known as a man who allows priceless historic artifacts to be callously ripped from a landmark of such beauty and grace.
A crime of rape was committed against this building and our community. We will not forget. And we will talk, take action and, make sure that, wherever you go, what ever community you move to, they know to protect their landmarks against you.
I hope that you leave town quietly, like a thief in the night, because that is what you have proven yourself to be.
Not a “Princess.” But, rather a common criminal, no better than the drug crazed goons who steal copper plumbing from buildings in the night.
So sad.
Robert Sullivan


  1. This is a sad story -- but it is part of a larger issue - A New Problem: Plundering Utica

  2. We need to develop a series of Facade Easements (for historic building exteriors) and Preservation Covenants (for both exteriors and interiors) for our most cherished historic buildings (working, hopefully, with the owners) so that such tragedies can be minimized or even rectified. The Landmarks Society just signed its first-ever facade easement with the Fort Schuyler Club; hopefully, more will follow.

  3. I have had a massive crush on this home since it first came on the market (or at least since I first saw it) back in 2008. I've only seen the home in pictures but cannot imagine what it must look like gutted. I can only imagine it's going to be awful hard to sell. Does anyone have any current photos of the home?