• Square grotesque

    I happened to find this for sale and bought it because he is exactly the same as a couple I had removed from a pair of buildings at 522-524 E 12th street in NYC way back around 1977. Even the mold number 1097-L is identical. These were usually installed with two other sculptures: a small lion keystone, and a larger keystone depicting Athena with a battle helm, 522 and 524 however lacked the little lion heads and instead used a smaller version of Athena on the top floor where the lions would normally appear.
    These were selected out of a catalogue of sorts as these three sculptures can be found on a number of buildings around Manhattan installed together. The buildings date to the post 1900 “new law” tenement design and probably were all built around 1905.
    Oddly enough one of the two I had in 1977 had an identical break on the top cornice, it could possibly even be one of the two I had or from the same building since I didn’t remove all of them, I didn’t remove all of them because as can be shown in photos below these sculptures were actually a supporting base for a column of bricks between the windows, the brick column was only about one brick wider than the sculpture which meant to remove it, I had to carefully do so and leave at least the few inches of bricks on either side to support the weight. Some idiot removed the two in the center between the two buildings and took out ALL of the supporting bricks which left the column just hanging in mid air only connected on the back by the perpendicular brick wall between the two buildings. A photo shows how the demolistion crew had to shore up the hole with heavy timbers to prevent collapse of that large section of wall.

    The little lion was mold No 1097-S and Athena was mold No 1108

    Here below is a photo of one of mine taken around 1980:

    Now here’s where I decided to play detective to find several other buildings with the very same ornaments on them, I discovered 522-524 were designed in 1901 by architect G. F. Pelham and they were owned by Jacob Kassewitz, I found that Kassewitz owned other buildings and that he used the same architect for all of them. On a hunch I street viewed each of the four buildings, starting with 237-241 E 53rd st which I knew about before, this pair was built in 1900 and cost $58,000 to build, the square grotesques number eight, Athena also numbers eight, and the little lion head which is very hard to see numbers sixteen across the two top floors:

    Next I checked 229 E 11th st, also built in 1901 and it cost $28,500, this building is a singleton, it has four lion heads on the top floor, six Athena keystones over two floors, and four square grotesques:

    Next I went to 119 W 15th st, also built in 1901 for the same cost as 229 was, this building has four square grotesques, four Athenas and four lion heads:

    Lastly, I went to Mr Kassewitz’s fourth building, located at 9 Spring st., built also in 1901 but which cost $30,000 to build, this one like the other singletons has four square grotesques, four Athenas and four lion heads:

    Done with Mr Kassewitz I turned my attention to 522-524 E 12th st. (actually 518 through 524 are shown in the archives), and while the buildings were demolished in the 1980s, their record still appears as having been built in 1901 over four lots at a cost of $112,000 for the 7 story brick buildings. The row of four tenements was a massive undertaking which fronted 100 feet along 12th street’ South side, the owner of these buildings however was Samuel Brasch. The odd thing is, only 522 and 524 were of the same style with the Athenas and Square grotesques, the other two buildings (518 and 520 to the East) were totally different, I suspect there is an error in the archive and that 518 and 520 did not belong, or there could be other explanations such as they were under construction and Brasche bought them and the adjacent two lots, finished the two under construction and had the other two built.
    Across the two buildings there were an amazing fourty Athena keystones and eight square grotesques:

    Now I also know there was another “Athena building” on East 106th st, 308 and I believe 306- another pair, neither building appears in the archive which unfortunately starts in 1900, that could be an omission or it could mean they were built just before 1900, they had eight Athenas, eight square grotesques and eight lion heads, here’s the buildings being demolished around 1977:

    Here’s the little lion and Anthena I have been talking about:

    Next I went to look at G.F Pelham, he was a prolific architect whose career spanned decades, he literally was designing buildings all over Manhattan at least- from the 1890s well into the 1920s and later, he has over 1000 buildings to his credit.

    So far where are we numbers wise on these? I counted 70 Athena keystones, 36 sq grotesques and 36 lion head keystones and I know there are more buildings with these on them among Pelham’s 1000 entries. I know I’ll do a little more searching and see what comes up for 1900 thru 1905 to narrow it down. Pelham seemed to use this particular set of ornaments on a number of buildings, no doubt he kept a portfolio he showed prospects what they could have as a “stock” design off the shelf for the lowest price instead of custom designing a facade from scratch, no doubt this design was among the pages of that portfolio and that it was popular.