Two mystery gargoyles on a 57th Street building

When you walk along New York City streets, you never know who is looking down at you. And on a busy corner at West 57th Street and Broadway, you’re getting the evil eye from two mysterious grotesques.

These stone figures are affixed to what was once the main entrance for the Argonaut Building—a terra cotta beauty with Gothic touches that opened in 1909.

Back then, the building was the showroom for the Peerless Motor Car Company, a long-defunct carriage and car manufacturer that vacated the premises in the 1910s.

This stretch of Broadway near Columbus Circle was known as Automobile Row, thanks to all the car showrooms that popped up there in the early 20th century.

After Peerless (above, in a 1909 ad) left, General Motors took it over. Eventually the building was renovated and converted to office use. The Hearst company bought it and based many of their consumer magazines here through the 2000s.

When it was important to have a presence in this car-showroom neighborhood, Peerless made sure they occupied prime real estate.

But they also designed the building to fit into the corner, which explains why it has the Gothic look of the Broadway Tabernacle Church, which held court on Broadway and 56th Street (above photo, likely from the 1940s).

But back to the grotesques. Spooky and sly, laughing or crying out, they’re either holding up the building or hiding under it with sinister intentions. Shrouded in what looks like robes and slip-on shoes, they’ve been with the building since the beginning…and are apparently here to stay.

[Third image: New-York Tribune, December 12, 1909; fourth image: NYPL Digital Collection]

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20 Responses to “Two mystery gargoyles on a 57th Street building”

  1. boxwoodbooks Says:

    Possible spoff of Michaelangelo’s Medici Chapel figues?

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Certainly could be…

  3. countrypaul Says:

    I never did understand – still don’t – the appeal of those grotesque figures, but I love the black-and-white photo of the corner! The iconic New York street signs are unique markers of the city, if sometimes hard to read depending in the placement of the inner angle; and those two-phase traffic signals also just scream New York. But the bishop’s crook streetlights were and are still signature New York, and I’m delighted than new manufacture of the original design has returned to many of the city’s streets. These are all visual cues of the wonder that is New York.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      As delighted as I am by grotesques and gargoyles, I also love that photo for its 1940s/1950s street sign and the wonderful lamppost…which I can confirm is no longer on that corner, alas.

  4. Shayne Davidson Says:

    These are wonderful!

  5. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    Across 57 was another auto showroom with Bonneville cars on display. It was 1963-64 I was in high school a few blocks away and we always dropped in to peer at the latest hot cars, especially the massive Bonneville. There were a few auto showrooms up and down B’way.

    • Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

      I forgot to mention it was also the site where the Coliseum Bookstore used to be, now also gone.

    • jms Says:

      That was a good place to see Bonnevilles, being the former GM NYC HQ. I would infinitely prefer, though, that it were still home to Coliseum Books, or were at least still clad in its original milk-chocolate-brown bricks, lost in an unfortunate 2011 face-lift.

  6. Storm Says:

    Does the city have any other gargoyles adorning it’s buildings? I absolutely love them and have always been fascinated by them.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Oh yes, gargoyles and grotesques are all over New York buildings. The more you look up, the more you spot them!

      • Storm Says:

        I’m putting together a sight seeing list of several buildings you feature, I just love the architecture. Thank you for all your posts.

  7. Joe Ruiz Says:

    I used to go to City College. These remind me of the many grotesques that decorated the buildings of the north campus.

  8. reynardloki Says:

    Wish this article would explain the story behind the gargoyles.

  9. Chris Fletcher Says:

    At that point in time, Peerless was one of the ultra-luxe Trio of “P” cars, namely Peerles, Pierce Arrow and Packard, now all sadly distant memories.

  10. jms Says:

    The Argonaut Building is a merging of two originally separate 1909 structures, both designed by terra-cotta maestro Francis H. Kimball — one for A. T. Demarest & Co., the other for the Peerless Motor Car Co. of New York. The combining took place nearly a decade later, when both buildings were owned by General Motors, and was the work of no less than Henry J. Hardenbergh; this then became GM’s HQ. The gargoyles were part of what began as the Demarest Building, not the Peerless.

    Incidentally, the orange-brick charmer across Broadway to the west is the 1921 Fisk Tire Building, another reminder of the Automobile Row era, and diagonally across the intersection stands the transmogrified former GM HQ after GM left the Argonaut — another structure formed by accretion, its bottom three floors (originally the Colonnade Building) from 1923 and the rest completed in 1928.

    Regarding the date of the photo showing the Broadway Tabernacle: just behind it rises the MONY Building, completed in 1950 — which was, to be sure, part of the 1940s. 🙂 But to my eye MONY looks rather “settled in”, so my guess would be that this view dates from the 1950s.

  11. W.B. Says:

    I have had interest, speaking of that pic with the MONY building showing, in the more famous “jump clocks” which showed the time in an array of light bulbs and, after later in the 1950’s, temperature. When the MONY building first went up in 1950, each of the four “jump clocks” had a total of 569 bulbs to flash the time; around 1960-61 the wiring was altered radically and the bulb count slashed significantly to 130. Pics from 1950-60 with the time showing from the building are extremely rare; if any others can be found there’d be much appreciation. The way the numbers were originally shaped were identical to what was atop the first IBM building on Madison Avenue in the East 50’s up to that building’s 1968 demolition.

    But not just the MONY building; I’m thinking of such other places as the ex-Watchtower building, now with ‘WELCOME’ blaring under that Columbia Heights complex in Brooklyn, has had the exact same time/temperature display since the late 1950’s/early ’60’s when Squibb was HQ’d there; plus the history of the different jump clocks for the Dime Savings Bank on the Flatbush Avenue Extension side of the block as their vast 9 DeKalb Avenue branch. Those type of time/temperature displays had more character than what we see today – and especially since what is now 1740 Broadway, I.M.H.O., absolutely ruined that time display with an add-on of numbers which take up five bulbs for every pixel (467 per side in total).

  12. All the different business districts of Manhattan, according to a 1939 magazine | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Automobile showrooms have long left West 57th Street near Columbus Circle. The arrow that says “meat” pointing to Midtown East (where the United Nations headquarters is today) referred to the former Abattoir Center—one of two slaughterhouse districts designated by the city in 1898, according to Tudor City Confidential. (The other slaughterhouse district was on West 14th Street.) […]

  13. The bright colors and muted energy of a Depression-era Midtown block | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] modern office buildings and apartment towers obscure the view of the Argonaut Building—the castle-like white structure that still stands down the block on Broadway and 57th Street. The […]

  14. Two mystery gargoyles on an East 29th Street building | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Sometimes scary, often cheeky, these grotesques and gargoyles pose a mystery: who decided to add them to the building, and what’s their significance? […]

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