The pretty peafowl on a Madison Avenue building

The Alexander Wilson Building has been at 274 Madison Avenue since 1928, blending in with the neighboring 1920s-era gray-beige office towers in this stretch of Midtown.

But on a walk past the lobby, some unusual detailing above and around the entrance catches your eye and sets the structure apart from the rest.

Wow—peafowl! Two lovely regal birds face each other on an Art Nouveau–esque frieze of leaves, grapes, and two peachicks behind them.

I’m not sure what these birds symbolize, but it’s an enchanting ode to the natural world amid Madison Avenue’s concrete sidewalks and cathedrals of commerce.

Of course, New York building facades are decorated with images to all kinds of animals, from squirrels to lions to elephants to rats.

And then there are the real peafowl—peacocks roaming around the grounds of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on West 112th Street.

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10 Responses to “The pretty peafowl on a Madison Avenue building”

  1. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    I absolutely love peafowl! We had some for awhile, rescued from a neighbor…..but they cannot be kept in the same coop (even just at night) with chickens. The peafowl get some disease. Mine ran away to the next door neighbor….Oprah!

  2. Zoe Says:

    Peacocks are part of our traditional iconography in our ancient Eastern & Oriental Churches (Syriac & Coptic & Orthodox etc.); symbolising everlasting Life. The earliest depictions are in catacombs.

    Another symbolism – also from our ancient Faith – is Humility; as the bird cannot see it’s own dazzling beauty which is always behind it.

    And yet another in the Church is that the feathers symbolise the starry sky & cosmos. And the *eyes* in the feathers the all knowingness/seeingness of Allah/God.

    This may explain the grapevines & leaves & bunches of grapes depicted here as well – which have the same meaning of Life & continuance (wine is preserved throughout time) & are also used for the Eucharist & Pascha/Passover etc.

    A lot of ancient Christian symbolism was taken from pre-Christian Syrian (Aramaean) & Greek thought/belief/tradition; so perhaps the architecture here was more influenced by neo-classical Greek motifs than by the ancient Church.

    When I first moved to Manhattan on my own (from an hour away) my older brother – who’d lived there already – said “Always remember to look up; that’s where the beautiful architectural detail is.” We’d gone to the City all the time since we were kids but it was somehow new & invaluable advice. Whenever you post these friezes & lintels etc. Ephemeral – I always remember his precious words to me.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks for your take Zoe! I imagine all these interpretations had something to do with the peafowl getting up there.

  4. Tom B Says:

    Am I the only one who sees how unattractive that Chipolte sign looks on that building? But the mayor wants take down Columbus Circle Statue! Stop the madness. Growing up I was told NYC would not let chain stores in the City, that was another reason that made it so unique.

  5. truthbeautykindness Says:

    I had the same reaction as Tom. That Chipotle sign couldn’t be more offensive.

  6. David H Lippman Says:

    What a pretty design! I have to look for it!

  7. armdis Says:

    I was this building’s elevator mechanic for a while. I never noticed the architectural details in my comings and goings to service the elevators.

  8. Zoé Says:

    St.John the Divine has live peacocks on its grounds. (I just found this out & remembered this post). So the symbolism in the Church seems to be alive in the present – in this case quite literally.

    • Zoé Says:

      Sorry – I just noticed you posted about the peacocks at St.John in 2008 Ephemeral. I should have known that – shame on me! Anyway Jim & Phil & Harry (as they’ve been named) have a new “hutch” now (‘Construction Project at a Cathedral. A New Home for Its Peacocks’ NYT 8 Oct 2017).

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