The Duke of Windsor Played the Drums Here

’New York was a moving cocktail party,” says Anne Slater, immaculately dressed, accessorized with her signature cobalt-blue glasses. The style icon and social fixture is reminiscing about the extremely lively scene that took place in her sprawling apartment at 998 Fifth Avenue, which overlooks the Metropolitan Museum of Art—and which is now on the market for $17.7 million. “I don’t like just having parties where you come in and you get hors d’oeuvre. That is very ho-hum. I like something that is, you know, a little fuller.”

Ho-hum never had a chance here, between the duke of Windsor’s impromptu drum performance one night and Rosie the dancing bear doing a waltz with Johnny Gallagher another. When El Morocco closed, Slater explains, the club would empty out and head over to her place for a few late- night/early-morning games of Ping-Pong. Her guest-list regulars were “a mishmash” of people like Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Porfirio Rubirosa, Grace Kelly, and Fred Astaire. Definitely not ho-hum.

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Dancing bears and drumming abdicators were probably not what Stanford White envisioned when he drew up the plans for the stately limestone edifice in 1910. “This building,” says Kathy Sloane, of Brown Harris Stevens, the exclusive broker for the Slater apartment, “was commissioned by two gentlemen [James T. Lee and Charles R. Fleischmann] who wanted to transform the way people lived in the city, by encouraging the rich of Upper Fifth Avenue to abandon their single-family houses in favor of European-style apartments.” (Lee and Fleischmann wanted to buy up those houses and replace them with more apartment buildings.) They hired McKim, Mead & White to design the Italian Renaissance– style twelve-story building for the very rich, incorporating amenities like jewelry and silver vaults in the apartments and wine cellars in the basement. Each simplex on the Fifth Avenue side contained a servant’s wing with six to nine maid’s rooms, as well as a dining room for staff. A broker named Douglas Elliman—just starting his career—stocked the building with Guggenheims and Astors, whose presence ignited a vogue for buying mansions in the sky.

Slater got her first glimpse inside as a 17-year-old attending Finch Junior College. She’d come to an engagement party for her friend Gertie Gretsch, who was marrying John Jacob Astor. “I walked in, and I just adored it, and I said, ‘Jack, I am crazy about this apartment! This is exactly the apartment I want to live in in New York!’ ” Slater recalls. “He sort of patted me on the head and said, ‘Yes, of course.’ ”

A few years later, in 1953, Slater and her first husband, William Grace Holloway Jr., were living in an immense apartment at 420 Park Avenue (“I really downsized when I moved here,” she says). Astor called to tell her an apartment with a layout similar to his was available at 998. Slater and her mother went to see it, and she rented it on the spot. A few months later, the building went co-op. She’s been there ever since.

Now that it’s for sale, most of Slater’s furniture and art has been packed up, leaving only the apartment’s elegant proportions—and her amazing memories—behind. “It was just a terrific apartment,” says Slater. “And I have adored it from the very moment I saw it.”

The Duke of Windsor Played the Drums Here