Strange Days in Sniffen Court

Tucked away on quiet 36th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue lies Sniffen Court—one of the city’s sweetest private alleys. Ten two-story former carriage houses, built in the 1860s, now serve as private residences (one houses a theater) that collectively look like a toy village.

Unlike other alleys, like Patchin Place in the West Village, a locked gate prevents curious passersby from strolling in and time-traveling back to Civil War–era New York City. 

But it didn’t prevent The Doors from shooting the Strange Days album cover there in 1967. Inspired by the 1954 Fellini film La Strada, the photographer recruited carnival performers and average joes (reportedly one was a cabbie paid $5 for his time) to pose for the iconic photo.

Here’s the cover shot. Compare it to Sniffen Court today; this landmarked mews has barely changed in 30 years.

The back cover photo shows the left side of Sniffen Court. The white horse and rider reliefs on each side of the back wall still exist:

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19 Responses to “Strange Days in Sniffen Court”

  1. petey Says:

    i had no idea!
    this would be a good game of ‘spot the difference’. the back door has been changed, and there are more planters …

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    And no Doors posters taped up on the sides…

  3. Nabe News: January 7 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    […] out Sniffen Court, the private alley where The Doors shot the cover photo for the Strange Days record in 1967 [Ephemeral […]

  4. PizzaBagel Says:

    This entry got me thinking: Does anybody know in which subway station the cover of Billy Joel’s “Turnstiles” album was photographed? It looks like it’s on the Lexington Avenue IRT — on the “lower” portion (as far north as 33rd Street).

  5. Will Trame Says:

    Sniffen Court is an extraordinary work of architecture. Viewing the ivy covered buildings and broken stone walkway it’s hard to believe that this locale is not somewhere in Europe. The mews suited the Doors “Strange Days” album cover perfectly; the carnival sideshow presenting a fitting tableau to the fatalistic music contained within. Too bad the old tattered “Doors” poster is no longer present as it would have provided an apt testament to both record and location as both are splendid works of art.

  6. Ghosts of 19th century New York horses « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] one above is at the entrance to Sniffen Court—the pretty, circa-1860s mews-turned-private homes on 36th Street between Lexington and Third […]

  7. bennyeyes Says:

    There are weird inconsistencies on the Strange Days cover when compared to these photos of Sniffen Court. The relief on the back wall to the right of the door as photographed for Strange Days appears to have been changed at some stage for a replica of the relief on the left. It doesn’t fit its space fully like the one on the album cover which has two horses.

    However if you look at the back cover of Strange Days, that area of the wall is blank – no horse relief at all. Which means it was either edited out, or the one on the front cover never existed and has been painted in, with a replica relief installed at a later date. Who knows?

    Beautiful mews though.

  8. Black666Dog Says:

    So friendly as it looks at the present photoshot, so cold (blue walls), sad, hostile (in a certain way) and strange it looks at the Doors’ covershots.
    At one covershot (with the artists doing their act) I see the right-panel with the horse. But at the other covershot (with the girl and the collector) this horse dissapeared.
    Maybe it ment something (a hidden message or something like that). I can’t find a reason why it should be removed!

  9. greg chown Says:

    I’ve posted a segment about your article on my site and given you credit but have used your photo.
    let me know if this is ok with you.

  10. greg chown Says:

    It’s off University Place but I need to find the other camera.

  11. When rock album covers featured New York City « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] New York locations for the cover art on The Doors’ Strange Days and The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan have gotten plenty of […]

  12. Roses and butterfly in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] was a Philadelphia native who came to the city to create art. Reportedly she had a studio on Sniffen Court, the loveliest little alley in Murray […]

  13. petey Says:

    i saw a reference to sniffen court.
    i googled sniffen court.
    i saw a link to ephemeral new york.
    and i see that i posted in it 9.5 years ago!

  14. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    You’re one of Ephemeral New York’s old-timers, Petey! Hmm, maybe it’s time for a refresh or new angle about Sniffen Court, it’s a beautiful little spot.

  15. petey Says:

    living in one of these houses, or one on washington mews, or one in that triangle in the west village, i can’t think of the name, is the Grail for the likes of me. i’ll have to settle for the garden apartment in my own building one day, which would be pretty sweet.

  16. samrtalek Says:

    Not “Sniffin’ Court,” eh?
    Then again, as I understand it, tho The Doors clearly did their share, plus those of many others, of a good variety of recreational chemicals, coke wasn’t quite as much the substance of choice in the 1960s as it later became…

  17. samrtalek Says:

    apologies, totally forgot to mention (in the foofaraw of trying to get WordPress to recognize me & post the comment), that it might please you to know that this page is the very first hit (out of 671k!) in a Google search for:

    name of the mews from the doors album cover

    at least once Google was instructed that the page MUST contain “mews” (it apparently kept thinking I was asking for “news”).
    Well done!

  18. What remains of the horses that powered Gilded Age New York City | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Manhole covers with patterns to prevent horse hoofs from skidding exist as well. Stable blocks and mews where the wealthy once parked their broughams have been converted to (pricey) homes for […]

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