The stone and iron turtles decorating New York City

Colonial New Yorkers hunted them in estuaries and salt marshes, putting turtle soup on every restaurant menu. Contemporary city residents know them as the scaly native reptiles who occasionally pop their heads up while feasting in city waterways.

Considering the role they’ve played in Gotham’s history and their presence in the modern city, it’s no wonder that images of turtles can be found on building facades, fence posts, and the sculptures in Manhattan parks.

You would expect a neighborhood called Turtle Bay to have its fair share of ornamental turtles. The turtle above is one of several on the iron fences surrounding Turtle Bay Gardens, a posh collection of restored brownstones flanking a private garden between Second and Third Avenues and 48th to 49th Streets.

The Turtle Bay Gardens iron fence turtles are a lot more stylized than this stegosaurus-like critter, one of three lifelike bronze turtles in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, on East 49th Street off Second Avenue.

Outside of Turtle Bay, turtle sculptures abound. One of my favorites is the circa-1916 turtle at the base (one of four) of the Pulitzer Fountain beside the Plaza Hotel on 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. Its mouth serves as one of the fountain’s spouts—a nice bit of whimsy.

Farther uptown at 973 Fifth Avenue is a sculpture with a base resting on the backs of two rather round turtles. The sculpture is in the rotunda of a former Gilded Age mansion now occupied by a French-English bookstore called Albertine (operated by the French Consulate, which has long owned the mansion).

Full-size view of The Young Archer, resting on turtles

The turtles supporting the sculpture are impressive. But the sculpture itself might have more of a pedigree. Acquired by Stanford White and called The Young Archer, it’s been in the rotunda for decades and has recently been identified as a possible early work of Michelangelo, according to the Albertine website.

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13 Responses to “The stone and iron turtles decorating New York City”

  1. Andrew Lewis Says:

    Beautiful love them

    >

  2. Ginny Poleman Says:

    The Young Archer in the Payne Whitney house is actually a 3-D replica. Once discovered that it could be a Michelangelo, the original moved to Met as a loan. There, it is referred to as “Cupid.” https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/236774

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks for the info Ginny; I thought it was a little odd that they would leave a Michelangelo in that rotunda. There’s a security guard, but still seemed risky.

  3. velovixen Says:

    It’s easy to forget how much of a role animals played in NYC history, whether before or after European colonization. But turtles, beavers and other aquatic and amphibious creatures abounded.

    I love all of the sculptures. The one in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza is a real bad-ass. Maybe it’s there to remind folks in such a posh neighborhood of how tough real New Yorkers are!😉

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Badass is totally right. I like it—this one is a lot fiercer than the turtles that come up for food handouts at the lake in Central Park!

  4. petlover1948 Says:

    This is just wonderful! Thanks so much!

  5. baton babe Says:

    Ahhhh, that Stanford. He had an eye for turtles and girls. (It was the girls that did him in!)

  6. Beth Says:

    The stegosaurus-like creature is a good representation of an American snapping turtle. Central Park has several in its waterbodies. They really do look like dinosaurs.

  7. Rob c Says:

    You missed out the best one! Next time you’re in Soho do me a favor and wander by 205 prince st (the one with the awesome windows) and take a look through the grate right in front of the house.

  8. rossana delzio Says:

    Reblogged this on Intellicooking and commented:
    The Spy next door…

  9. d206s50 Says:

    I very much enjoy your fascinating posts.
    Thank you for your effort !

  10. Ruth Rogers Says:

    Also under the flag poles on the plaza in front of the main NYPL.

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