A metalwork dreamscape at a 1929 Gracie Square co-op

Ever since the far eastern end of 84th Street was rebranded Gracie Square in 1929 (after Archibald Gracie, whose summer home is now the mayor’s residence four blocks north), this one-block stretch alongside Carl Schurz Park has (mostly) been lined with tall, elegant apartment houses.

These buildings, off East End Avenue overlooking the East River, radiate a stuffy kind of luxury. But something very imaginative makes 7 Gracie Square stands out from its more staid neighbors.

It’s the magnificent metalwork on the front doors and window grilles—featuring a bestiary dreamscape of elephants, gazelles, plants, leaves, and curlicue, wave-like motifs that looks like snails or shells.

Of course the doors are the creation of an artist: a painter and muralist named Arthur W. Crisp. After relocating to New York City from his native Canada in the early 1900s, Crisp studied at the Art Students League and shared a studio on 34th Street.

Unlike most people working in creative fields, Crisp had some money by the late 1920s. He bought property on the future Gracie Square and commissioned a builder and architect to construct an apartment house, wrote Christopher Gray in a 2011 Streetscapes column in the New York Times.

“Crisp retained George B. Post & Sons, along with Rosario Candela, and they designed a tepid Art Deco facade of red brick, with vertical runs of brick set at an angle,” stated Gray.

Why Crisp decided to decorate the doorway entrance in various types of metal—and what inspired his vision to make this “tepid” building so unique—remains a mystery.

Perhaps it had to do with the fact that Crisp lived in one of the building’s maisonettes, according to Gray. He left behind his last name, which he playfully embedded in one of the iron window grilles to the left of the front doors (below).

Crisp didn’t stay long at 7 Gracie Square. In 1935, the building went bankrupt, Gray wrote, and at some point Crisp relocated to Charlton Street.

The building went co-op in 1945—and the dreamy, fanciful doors still greet residents, catching the eye of the occasional passerby when the sun hits the metal and creates a powerful gleam.

[MCNY X2010.7.2.8894]

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4 Responses to “A metalwork dreamscape at a 1929 Gracie Square co-op”

  1. countrypaul Says:

    Wow – who knew? Another place to visit….

  2. CL Says:

    Stunning!

  3. Michael Padwee Says:

    Thank you for this post about Arthur Crisp’s metalwork designs. I believe I can throw some light on the animal motifs used by Crisp. I wrote an article for my blog, “Architectural Tiles, Glass and Ornamentation in New York,” on July 6, 2012 titled “American Encaustic Tiling Company–Part II, Artists’ Tiles.” In it I discuss two of Arthur Crisp’s ceramic panels made for AET and exhibited at the Architectural League of New York in c.1921/1922. One of Crisp’s ceramic tile panels showed two elephants facing each other carrying baskets of flowers; there was a tree in the center of the panel with two fancy birds sitting on bottom branches and other birds on the top branches. The panel consisted of 40 tiles arranged in 4 horizontal rows of 10 tiles each. The fate of these panels, however, is not known.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I knew someone out there could shed a little more light on these doors—thank you! I would love to see the panels, but I guess I’m a century late.

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