Spooky owls perched high above New York

These mysterious Halloweenish creatures, symbolizing wisdom and foresight, appear on lots of buildings—like this one below at 11 Stanton Street, built in 1900.


More owls greet you in Midtown. Two identical to the one here guard the entrance of Herald Square, the little patch of green east of Macy’s.

 They were part of a collection of 26 bronze owls perched on top of the headquarters of the New York Herald, the incredible Stanford White-designed building that stood here from 1895 to 1921.


James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the Herald, had a thing for owls. Not only did he decorate his building with them, he reportedly kept live owls as pets and wanted to be buried in an owl-shaped casket.

That last idea didn’t work out. But he did do something similarly spooky: He electrified the eyes of the owls on the Herald Building’s (and now in Herald Square) majestic Minerva statue and clock tower glowed green on the hour.

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13 Responses to “Spooky owls perched high above New York”

  1. kizzylee Says:

    love this and love following this blog keep up the good work and thank you for sharing xx

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:


  3. RD Wolff Says:

    As a matter of fact I owned several of those 3 section red terracotta owl spandrel panels pictured on 11 Stanton st., but mine came from an abandoned tenement that was on 129th st and St Nickolas Ave around 1977. The 11 Stanton st examples are identical and I don’t rememebr having seen them before.
    I sold them years ago, but I recreated the owl panel in clay from measurements and photos- link to the model.

  4. chas Says:

    Love those guardians in HS…seen them bedecked with Christmas wreaths and such…

  5. Carl Says:

    I don’t think the owls are there for any reason other than that they are a symbol of wisdom, Minerva was the goddess of wisdom, and I believe that, typically, she was represented as being attended by an owl.

    • RD Wolff Says:

      They are just decoration, whomever actually ordered the owls in the design had their reasons, it could have been the architect, or the building owner or both, there’s no way to know. The owner could have said ” build something unique” or he could have said “I want owls on the building because my wife likes them”

    • RD Wolff Says:

      Also, quite a few terracotta firms had stock ornaments you could order out of a catalogue of sorts, there’s at least a dozen ornaments I can think of that appear on many buildings around the city, and in most cases 3 designs typically were installed together- one is Minerva on a keystone , another is a square greenman, and the last is a small lion keystone.
      Another real popular one was a keystone bearded male mask with a sailor’s hat, usually instaleld with one of 2-3 variations of Athena.
      These were obviously just selected out of a stock facade design, and customized a little.
      They could have been selected for no other reason than they were the lowest price, or the fastest to obtain with the least amount of lead-time.
      I did a write up about this with photos of the pieces and buildings on a previous page of my blog.


  6. trebor Says:

    Owls keep pigeons away. I have two plastic ones on my fire escape.

  7. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    Trebor; take them down. It is not nice!

    RD Wolff: I hope it was his wife; who liked owls….there is a lot to like!

    and those sculptures are what I love most about NYC! And You have illuminated many of them! Can you show us more of that square greenman? We need to get these copied and put onto buildings all over the world! It makes everything so interesting!!!

  8. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    I want to buy the own panel! something didn’t work! Help! How divine!!!

  9. The owls that adorn New York school buildings | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Owls can be found adorning all kinds of city buildings, not just schools. Some owls even reside in city parks. […]

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