Who is the man on this York Avenue building?

1221 York Avenue is a handsome, brown-brick apartment house built in 1923. Shaded by trees, this six-story building between 65th and 66th Streets blends nicely into the streetscape.

But on a recent walk past it, I could see through the tree leaves two bas reliefs of male figures, each on the facade right above the building’s wide main entrance.

The facade also features another bas relief of a sailing ship positioned high along the second floor.

The ship, plus the colonial-era clothes worn by the men (or man, since it appears to be different profiles of the same person)—seems to hint that this person was an explorer.

Nothing I could tell about the building offers any clue. Henry Hudson would be an obvious guess, though neither image looks like ol’ Hendrick to me.

Whoever they are—or he is—was noteworthy enough to make it onto this building, giving it a little artistic flair on a quiet stretch of York Avenue neighboring hospitals and medical research institutions.

I’m terrible at recognizing faces, but that collar looks very much like something a 17th century explorer would wear. Sir Francis Drake?

When this apartment house was built, explorers were still held in high esteem. Anyone want to take a shot at it?

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18 Responses to “Who is the man on this York Avenue building?”

  1. Thomas McGee Says:

    Looks like it was known as one of the Rockefeller Apartments. Owned at one point by Rockefeller University. Pretty sure the man on the building is Henry Hudson.

  2. Thomas McGee Says:

    The ship does look like Hudson’s “Halve Maen / Half Moon”

  3. greg chown Says:

    I would agree. The ship also resemble’s Drake’s Golden Hind.

  4. davidxsilverstone3522 Says:

    First step would be to research the architect & builders. We have a good friend whose father & grandfather were architects. When he returns home, we can ask him.

    Sent from my iPad


  5. bloomingdaler Says:

    Maybe the building was once called “The Drake?”

  6. Nancy Anderson Says:

    The ship could be a clue about who this mystery male is. Folks who know about naval design can recognize distinctive national styles and eras. Alas, I’m not in the know

  7. Linda Metzger Says:

    Those were the Rockefeller Apartments, owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr. He hired architect Andrew J Thomas to erect the building. Andrew’s influence was mainly Italian villas and Spanish farmhouses. With the Spanish influence, I wonder if the portrait and ship was Columbus.

  8. VirginiaB Says:

    Magellan is my guess. If the building was completed in 1923, it might well have been begun in 1922. That was the 400th anniversary of Magellan’s ship’s accomplishment of circumnavigating the globe, the first to do so tho Magellan was killed before the final leg of the journey. Most such anniversaries were the occasion of great celebrations, most spectacularly Columbus at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893–a year late due to various reasons.

  9. Michael T Meehan Says:

    Spanish ship, Spanish dress… Giseppi Verrazanno .

    • VirginiaB Says:

      Verrazzano was from Tuscany in present-day Italy. From a town near Florence. That ruffled collar was widely worn and we don’t know what most of the explorers actually looked like in any event. I think the key lies in some event connected with the building. Perhaps the NY Times archive might have a clue. I don’t have access to that.


    16th Century Sir Francis Drake? Looks similar

    Katie Pearlman
    Calgary/ Canada

    Sent from Katie’s iPad


  11. Bob Says:

    I think it looks like this bust of Hudson on the State Capitol: https://www.shutterstock.com/editorial/image-editorial/ny-capitolsculpture-mystery-albany-usa-17-jul-2018-9764098n

  12. Susan Says:

    Henry Hudson and The Half Moon

  13. Tom B Says:

    I wonder if these male images are on Cancel Culture’s tear down list.
    They fit the qualifications. Sarcasm.

  14. Tony Towle Says:

    How about the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block, who sailed up the East River in 1614, a body of water perhaps within sight of the building in 1923? There are many images of Henry Hudson available, and they’re pretty far from the likeness presented here.

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