Posts Tagged ‘grotesques of New York City’

Grotesque faces staring at you at Hunter College

July 24, 2017

The East 68th Street campus of Hunter College doesn’t look very collegiate, with its skywalks and square modernist buildings.

But there’s a wonderful exception to all those concrete boxes: Thomas Hunter Hall at 934 Lexington Avenue.

(Thomas Hunter was the first president of this former all-female teachers college founded in 1869, when it was known as Normal College.)

Designed in 1912 by Charles B.J. Snyder, the architect of so many of New York’s elementary and high schools at the turn of the century, this English Gothic castle of a college building features cathedral windows and rooftop turrets that give the impression of a Medieval fortress.

And if you look closely, you’ll see plenty of Gothic-style faces staring back at you.

The facade and twin spires flanking the entrance are packed with grotesques—some scary, some goofy with a sense of humor (like the guy in the glasses above, who has a pencil behind his ear).

Hunter College is part of the City University of New York, and it’s not the only CUNY building decorated with unique, cheeky grotesques.

Visit CUNY’s campus on 137th Street in Harlem—a Gothic architecture lover’s dream—and you’ll encounter the same kind of fun and mischievous characters, like this one, appropriately reading a book. (This is a college, after all!)

[Top photo: Hunter College]

What are these fur district gargoyles doing?

September 26, 2011

Dingy West 29th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues was once the heart of the city’s fur district, reaching its heyday from the 1920s to the 1950s.

The block is still lined with fur warehouses and fur showrooms, though slowly their numbers are dwindling.

It’s easy to walk down the street and totally miss what seems to be a Gothic ode to the fur industry in the middle of the block, at number 214.

That’s the location of a curious building called the “29th Street Tower,” the entrance of which is flanked by these two grotesques.

This creepy character above looks like he’s massaging a beaver—or examining a beaver pelt?

The second one is more of a mystery. He appears to be holding a squirrel, letting it chew his finger. Is it kind of a last meal before the squirrel gets made into a coat?

The goofy grotesques of Morningside Heights

August 15, 2011

Morningside Heights is another New York neighborhood that seems to be filled with these wonderful, whimsical stone carvings.

                           Designers of Morningside Heights’ stately apartment buildings may have been influenced by Columbia University on 116th Street.

Or the Cathedral of St. John the Divine at 110th Street served as the inspiration.

Or maybe it was just the timing; gargoyles and grotesques were popular with architects around the turn of the century, when the West Side blocks of the 90s and 100s were developed.

Whatever inspired their creation, these grotesques are charming to encounter, especially the silly guys at the Brittania at 527 West 110th Street.

A scholar. A soup-cooker. A soup gobbler. A chicken eater. (A chicken eater?) These limestone ornaments are found all along the circa-1909 building.

“Hands off my rotisserie chicken!” he seems to be saying. In fact, a 2009 New York Times article reveals that the grotesques are meant to symbolize “some form of the homely art of housekeeping.”