The goofy grotesques of Morningside Heights

Morningside Heights is another New York neighborhood that seems to be filled with these wonderful, whimsical stone carvings.

                           Designers of Morningside Heights’ stately apartment buildings may have been influenced by Columbia University on 116th Street.

Or the Cathedral of St. John the Divine at 110th Street served as the inspiration.

Or maybe it was just the timing; gargoyles and grotesques were popular with architects around the turn of the century, when the West Side blocks of the 90s and 100s were developed.

Whatever inspired their creation, these grotesques are charming to encounter, especially the silly guys at the Brittania at 527 West 110th Street.

A scholar. A soup-cooker. A soup gobbler. A chicken eater. (A chicken eater?) These limestone ornaments are found all along the circa-1909 building.

“Hands off my rotisserie chicken!” he seems to be saying. In fact, a 2009 New York Times article reveals that the grotesques are meant to symbolize “some form of the homely art of housekeeping.”

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9 Responses to “The goofy grotesques of Morningside Heights”

  1. nyc edges Says:

    Great pictures and what a great building!
    from the NYT link “….he had them experiment with a more distinctive, lower building — only nine stories. Revenue was sacrificed for architectural effect.”
    We’ll never see that again

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    No, too bad. But at least we have these carvings to amuse us.

  3. focusoninfinity Says:

    These should be on some monumental building in Washington with facial similarities, and deeds similarities to the Presidents, or Vice Presidents, that done did them. Like one VP with a bag of bribes, one President ‘not’ getting sex, another declaring “Victory” in Iraq, etc.

  4. Jean Says:

    I don’t spend a lot of time in Morningside Heights, but we’re going to an event there on Saturday and I’m so glad to have read this article before that. Will definitely keep my eyes peeled for these now! Thanks!

  5. Parnassus Says:

    Just shows how it pays to keep your eyes peeled when taking a walk. Older buildings like this are especially interesting, and are in fact a hobby of mine. But don’t dismiss newer buildings as “modern atrocities”; they often possess beautiful materials, proportions, etc.
    –Road to Parnassus

  6. Joe R Says:

    These gargoyles remind me a bit of those at City College, not too far away, that was built around the same time as this building.

    • wildnewyork Says:

      Oh, I love those. My favorite character is this one:

    • T.J. Connick Says:

      A connection exists: Arthur E. Willauer, on behalf of George B. Post, was in charge of design work on the City College job, and, as partner in Waid & Willauer, was the architect of the Britannia.

      He is better known for the Candler Building and 50 Broad Street, both completed following his death in 1912, aged 36. At the time he was senior partner at Willauer, Shape and Bready.

      Beware persnickety architecture heads. They may bark if you say it’s a gargoyle when it’s not acting as, or mimicking, a waterspout. Think gargle. Both words are shoots from the same branch.

  7. Bob_in_MA Says:

    The Washington (iDC) Cathedral has a lot of cool gargoyles and someone did a documentary on the carvers. (they didn’t finish until the 1980s or ’90s) They explained that many of the characters were their friends, or each other. One I remember had a bag of gulf clubs. Probably hard to see with the unaided eye, but was obvious when looked at closely.

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