The mystery readers on a Cooper Square facade

Boutique-ization is running wild in Cooper Square these days. Luckily some wisps of a much older Cooper Square haven’t been bulldozed and turned into shiny hotels.

The lovely bas relief below graces the entrances at numbers 34-36.

It depicts a Goddess-like woman lying back beside an oil lamp, an open book balanced on her knees.

So why the visual reference to knowledge and literature? A little digging into the building’s history doesn’t turn up any answers.

The Renaissance Revival structure apparently had nothing to do with Cooper Union up the street; it was built in 1894 as a warehouse, according to this 1999 NoHo Historic District report. Today, it’s the home of the Village Voice.

An alternate address, 394-396 Bowery, matches that of the Boston Excelsior Store, reveals several early 1900s archived New York Times articles.

But what connection that store may have to books or learning remains unknown.

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7 Responses to “The mystery readers on a Cooper Square facade”

  1. T.J. Connick Says:

    Great American Salvage once operated (1980s) from that address. Retail-oriented sale of decorative architectural artifacts.

    Eighty years before, George F Moore had offices (showrooms?) at the address. They were in the decorative molding business.

    If it is on the ground floor, any number of tenants could have put it there. If the new tenant is indisposed to remove it or bury it, it stays. Landlord won’t make alterations unless he wants to be drummed out of the We Don’t Do a Thing that We Can Make Our Tenants Do Club.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks TJ. I was hoping to uncover a connection to an old bookstore, or publisher, or even something related to Cooper Union. Alas, the reader is a mystery. Two identical figures grace the two entrances on the ground floor of the building.

  3. Sean S. Says:

    Astor Place a hundred years ago was home to many book publishers/printers. This building, around the corner, was likely part of that enterprise.

    Incidentally, overruns of books were sold to the book dealers that up until the 70s/80s abounded near the printers on Broadway, Third and Fourth Avenues.

    Strand is about all that remains of that second-hand book industry.

  4. Maury Schott Says:

    The only connection I could think of is excelsior is another term for wood wool, which is currently used for packaging, some filters, etc. It used to be what Easter baskets had in them. I found a NY TImes article about a fire from 1903 saying the fire was difficult to fight because of the large amount of “excelsior and cotton” stored in the building. I wonder if the company produced packaging for the nearby publishers, or perhaps at the time excelsior was used to produce book covers.

  5. Seen and Heard Around the Village 8.20.11: East Edition Says:

    […] minds ponder the meaning behind the bas relief on the Village Voice building (Ephemeral New […]

  6. Seen and Heard Around the Village 8.20.11: East Edition – Village Preservation Says:

    […] minds ponder the meaning behind the bas relief on the Village Voice building (Ephemeral New […]

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