Who carved a horse above the entrance to this East Side brownstone?

East 116th Street between Second and Third Avenues has a long history as a bustling shopping strip—first as a crosstown street between the Second and Third Avenue Els in the heart of Harlem’s Little Italy, and since the 1940s and 1950s as a main thoroughfare for predominantly Hispanic East Harlem.

235 East 116th Street

The brownstone-fronted houses on the north side of the street form a handsome, stately row. Built when Italian laborers began moving into an area already colonized by German, Irish, and Jewish residents, you can imagine that these homes were owned by more middle-class folks in what was otherwise a working-class and poor neighborhood.

But on Number 235, which borders a historic church, something curious is carved above the entrance. It’s the image of a horse, in motion with no saddle, framed by a rectangular space set inside an oval.

Underneath the horse are what look like Greek letters. Google tells me this translates into, well, “horse.”

Number 235, in 1929, is to the right of the church; see the oval above the door

I’ve found myself passing by this horse a few times in recent months, and it’s an unusual relic, something I’ve never seen on any other brownstone entrances. Based on the black and white images of the house below, it seems that the horse has been here since at least 1929.

Stables and carriage houses in pre-automobile New York City often had an ornamental horse head or horse image outside the building, but this brownstone—built in 1879—doesn’t appear to have ever been used as a boarding space for horses.

From 1939-1941

Could someone involved in the carriage industry have lived here? Newspaper archives indicate the brownstone was home to Charles Schneider in 1907, profession unknown. In the 1910s and 1920s it was occupied by Salvatore A. Cotillo and his family. Cotillo was a Fordham-educated lawyer who immigrated from Naples as a boy and later became a state senator and then a city judge. Other owners and occupants haven’t been identified.

The horse could be a symbol of sorts, harkening back to ancient Greek or Roman mythology. Or maybe a resident created it on a whim? It’s here to stay, and I’d love to know the origins.

[Third image: NYPL; fourth image: New York City Department of Records & Information Services]

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17 Responses to “Who carved a horse above the entrance to this East Side brownstone?”

  1. Reinhard Hiss Says:

    The ‘S’ int the end is not Greek, furthermore Spiritus and accent are lacking. Therefore I consider it to be rather a pursuit than a display of classical education.

  2. Andrew ALPERN Says:

    The expected stoop is missing, suggesting that 116th Street was widened, and the stoops removed. In the process of dropping the entrance to the basement level, the original circular ornament beneath the broken pediment may have been damaged. The rectangular equine plaque may merely have been readily available to the building owner so he used it as a replacement. But as the setting cries out for a circular plaque or ornament, the use of a rectangular one suggests either some special meaning for its subject or possibly mere perversity.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks Andrew, I think it must have a personal meaning to the home owner, which we’ll never know. It looks very DIY, but that’s part of the charm for me.

  3. Kathleen Benson Haskins Says:

    In 2017, Landmark East Harlem commissioned an intensive-level historic resource survey of the buildings in the area, which led to the first historic district in East Harlem to be listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 2019. The Italianate row house at 235 West 116th Street dates to 1878, was built by Jacob H. Valentine, and was owned by Isaac E. Wright.

  4. fabulouslululolo Says:

    I too have been fascinated by the origin of the horse on that building, One of the more recent owners of the building in the 1970’s was Mr Musco not certain of the spelling. He was once our landlord. In the 1940-1950’s there was a pharmacy next door. Also the great Congressman Vito Marcantonio and Leonard Covello who founded Benjamin Franklin High School now Manhattan Center lived a few doors away. Marcantonio district office was also on that street. Research the history of the church too it is very interesting. There is much history in the buildings along that street. East 116th street between First and Second Avenue is named for my father Pete Pascale. I was born and raised in East Harlem and until recently lived there.

  5. Kina Says:

    The carving above the church entrance says first Magyar church. Magyar is the Hungarian word for Hungarian.

    Sent from my iPad


  6. carlagolden Says:

    I love reading all of your posts Esther. Some posts tell me more about something I know a little about and some posts introduce me to completely new information. This post was a mixture of both for me. I knew nothing about the building or the horse carving, but as I read to the end, I was delighted to see a name that I know very well. Judge Salvatore Albert Cotillo, first Italian-American NY Supreme Court judge, was the step-father of my maternal grandmother. He adopted her at the age of 18. Her name changed from Helen Laura Ritzmann to Helen Laura Cotillo. Five years later she married my grandfather, Carlo M. Paterno, son of Dr. Charles V. Paterno who was a member of the prominent NYC apartment house building family. I grew up seeing HCP monogrammed on my grandmother’s belongings and Cotillo is my aunt’s (Helen’s first child) given middle name. Thank you for adding to my family history with this building!

  7. carole teller Says:

    Dear Esther, Thank you for the delightful tidbits that make walking the New York streets even more interesting than they are. It was a pleasure meeting you at the Salmagundi Club and hope you come often and maybe your eagle eye will find and make us aware of things at club that we never noticed! It is a pleasure to read your Ephemeral New York—thank you again for making the world a little better with your fascinating observations.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thank you so much Carole for the kind words, and I’m glad we were able to meet in person! I’ll be at the Salmagundi Club again doing a Tea Talk at some point in next 3-4 months, and I hope you can attend.

      • carole teller Says:

        Dear Esther, Im so glad you’ll be doing a Tea Talk with Carl. That will be terrific! Looking forward to it. By the way, your comments on the Martin Lewis etching were wonderful. He’s my favorite etcher—I’m partial to New York scenes ( and I do lift some ideas from him!! 🙂
        Hope to see you at the club, at the Tea Talk if not before. And meanwhile I shall enjoy my daily dose of ephemeral insights! With gratitude!

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