Sad and silly carvings on a Madison Avenue facade

The AIA Guide to New York City describes 285 Madison Avenue, an office building at the corner of 40th Street built in 1926, as “an unremarkable block of brick.”

Well, except for the funny little stone figures that surround the street-level store windows. 

Dozens of them adorn the facade, such as a blind man and a boy who looks like he’s about to spit something out of his mouth.

There’s also a man holding an instrument of some kind, and a woman gazing into a mirror.

So who are they? The best answer I could find is in a 1970 New York Times article on city buildings adorned with stone ornamental carvings:

“A building for a tabloid newspaper constructed in 1925 at 285 Madison Avenue showed figures of people in the news—a boy with a beanshooter, a fisherman, a man with a bandaged face holding his aching tooth, ballplayers, prizefighters, and a sad girl with a broken doll.” 

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6 Responses to “Sad and silly carvings on a Madison Avenue facade”

  1. Paul Says:

    Yes! I’ve seen and photographed these very haunting carvings on the building. Thanks for the explanation as to their source.

  2. Laura Says:

    I love these details. People of the era probably knew who each of these figures were supposed to be. The man holding the instrument looks like Thomas Edison to me.

  3. Ari Says:

    False! It was and always has been the Young & Rubicam advertising agency building, they were designed to represent the people of NYC and America. Also the fisherman is supposed to be the Gorton’s fisherman.

  4. phil Says:

    they’re redoing the building, and thankfully leaving the historically disputed figures.

  5. El Mar Says:

    Someone somewhere please photograph each individual carving and make an informative article (perhaps a book) about the building, and who made the carvings, and what each carving depicts before the building is destroyed along with the artistic and historic value it presents.
    It seems that the small carvings present people in different situations, and from different walks of life and from different occupations, the kind that used to exist at least up until the carving of the figures or judging from the clothing styles and appearance of the figures, the depictions are of people mostly from Medieval times up until the early 1900s. There is a soldier dressed in a military helmet and battle dress uniform that used to exist in WW 1, there seems to be a brick layer, a land surveyor, a bagpipe player, a young boy with a slingshot, another who appears to be a newspaper boy and there are even some carvings that seem to depict mythological persons such as elves or fairies.

    There are also carvings of people in whimsically unfortunate situations such as an elderly man with his head wrapped in a large handkerchief because he has as sore tooth.

    I would wonder about the artist who made these carvings and the architectural plans that made it all possible. Was it intended to be eye catching? What idea were the carvings supposed to get across,that each of us can be found in some way in the carvings, that each of us can always find ourselves in situations that other people many times before us , have found themselves in,
    that there forseeably will always be working stiffs, sick people, individuals who make music, children being children, elderly being elderly?
    Real enchanting.

    I hope that the carvings will always be preserved and even studied as to their origins.

  6. anarchristian Says:

    Saw them today (2/9/19). They’re quite weather-worn. Hope they’ll be honored in a book in time for their centennial.

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