Circa 1903 roundel with a deep relief female portrait bust wearing long hair, a necklace and lace garment, laurel and oak leaves flank the figure, each element has a symbolic meaning and purpose. The laurel leaves symbolize victory while the oak leaves symbolize strength.
So this female figure was associated with victory and strength.
Terracotta 25″ across, purchased from an antique store on Bleecker Street in 2009 for $1350. The roundel, which was salvaged in the 1950s from the Lower East Side was probably from a tenement East of Avenue D when the city built the “Projects,” originally she likely had a separate border made of six sections.
The Brooklyn museum has one of these roundels with five of the six borders in their sculpture garden. The author has found photos of at least three extant buildings in Manhattan which have these same roundels on them, they are located at 431-441 East 80th Street, and 219 Grand Street.
The East 80th street buildings’ roundels have no borders while those on the Grand St facade do have them.
It is unknown who the portrait represents, but as should be obvious- the uncommon round shaped terracotta, and the prominent locations these were placed and on multiple buildings suggests that the figure represents either a historical person of the day, or even someone important to the architect or building owner. It is dated to 1903 but after researching possibilities, about the only seemingly likely figure might be Jenny Lind, a much beloved popular female singer of the era but she died in 1887,
how about Emily Warren Roebling- the female engineer who completed the Brooklyn bridge died in 1903? or perhaps Julia Boggs Grant who was the First Lady of the United States and wife of Ulysses S. Grant, she died in 1902? so many possibilities and no effective way to pinpoint the “who” for sure.
This attractive repeating Art Deco design originally was made in individual nickel plated bronze pieces. The pieces when bolted together formed a repeating motiff lintel across the top of the interior entrance doorway of the Women’s House of Detention.
The Jail was located at 6th Ave behind the present day Jefferson Market Public Library which was originally a courthouse.
The New York Women’s House of Detention is believed to have been the world’s only art deco prison. It was designed by Sloan and Robertson in 1931 and opened to the public with a luncheon on March 29, 1932.
The courthouse, and jail, the latter which was subsequently opened in 1934 (demolished 1973) was the scene of the notorious Harry K Thaw murder trial of renowned architect Stanford White in 1906.
I rescued several of the individual bronze pieces, the rest were scrapped during demolition, the original lintel was about 8 feet long. I have made a mold of one of the sections and have several configurations available.
I have a book I saw in a list of references in an article on this building, I was hoping for some photos and didn’t know what to expect of the actual contents. Anyway it’s titled Hellhole; the shocking story of the inmates and life in the New York City House of Detention for Women. By Sara Harris, Dutton 1967. It starts out detailing the jail building and the horrid conditions, rats, roaches, overcrowding, the lousy staff/correction officers/doctors and system that was a total failure in every possible way.
The city was paying correction officers and doctors on call about $90 a month flat fee, so needless to say the morale to do work wasn’t there, nor were the quality of the medical services. The women only jail saw mostly drug addicts and prostitutes, most all of whom were repeatedly put in there- which clearly shows how the entire criminal justice and court system was a total failure. The book goes on to take general leave of the conditions of the jail and staff treatment of prisoners, and starts diving right into much more detailed case histories and interviews with a number of former and present inmates. Harris’ interviews took her to the worst slums in Harlem. Her subjects recounted their time in this jail and coping with a constant barage of rats, dirty bedding with mice nests inside, toilets that leaked on the floor, the homosexual attacks on new inmates and the gang/protection racket amongst the various factions within the prisoners. They further recounted the lack of medical services and a number of instances where inmates with serious mental or physical problems were not given treatment or given the standard pills they handed to everyone who had a medical complaint of any kind- drug withdrawl pills. Harris’ interviews showed graphically how the entire cycle began, and why the women wound up being incarcerated over and over again- one woman arrested 28 times- for the same crimes.
The mystery of why someone in the system didn’t start thinking there had to be a better way, treatment for drug addictions and a help up out of the poverty and lack of skills that resulted in prostitution and stealing. The lack of skilled staff and quality medical care, the city’s dire budgetary shortfalls, and the poorly designed “system” all came together in the most disasterous fashion, and the results were a revolving-door of the same pathetic addicted inmates, and ineffectively dealing with the root causes of the problems that brought them there in the first place. It appears as though the “blame” was largely and inappropriately placed upon The “Women’s House of Detention” building when in reality, the jail was a visible and dark symptom of the much larger, totally ineffective and broken- criminal justice, legal, and social welfare system.
The problem was not so much “the building” as it was the city, poor budget and the quality of staff that $90 a month salary could obtain. I’m not so certain that the ubiquitous rats, roaches, filth, overflowing toilets and poorly trained abusive staff were not symptomatic of all such detention facilities given the budget shortfalls, poorly paid staff and overburdoned court system. In the end, as a “solution” to neighborhood complaints it was the building that was demolished, the system apparently was not fixed nor were the budget problems addressed. Indeed, now, as then, the faces appearing in the facilities and courts are young black poverty stricken, addicted and hopeless people caught up in the system and it’s revolving door cycle of arrest, release back on the street with no job, or money with which to buy food or pay rent, and untreated drug addictions for which the person needs exorbitant amounts of money to support. One can’t help but wonder if these issues are the same today, with only the inmate faces and the addiction of choice being the bulk of any change since the 1960’s Harris’ book has no photos or images, but the details of the stories leaves the readers with more than enough of a series of mental images as clear as any photos she could have included.
The sculpture is now available in two sizes, large and original;
The unassuming and dimunitive little Otis elevator call button was a simple but artistic design used for many years by Otis elevator Co., with their laurel wreath encircling their name emblazoned over a globe logo, and surrounded by a classical egg & dart molding. This particular artifact has only one button- the “up” button as it was originally located in the basement, not only was it located in a lowly, damp basement, but that basement happened to be the one that was under the 1867 Broadway Central Hotel (BCH) once located on several lots fronting 150 feet of Broadway with the main entrance at 673 Broadway, NY City.
It was originally named “The Grand Central Hotel”
The site was originally a hotel and theatre known as; The Lafarge House. Edwin Booth appeared there as did other well known persons, this building was destroyed in an 1854 fire, it was rebuilt, and destroyed in yet another spectacular fire!
In March 1869 the property sold at public auction by the heirs of the Lafarge estate to E. S. Higgins, Esq., who was recorded fourth on the list of wealthy citizens for the sum of $1,000,000. This gentleman was determined to erecting the largest hotel in the country with 630 rooms.
The hotel had 350 workmen building it, 7 acres of carpeting, 4,000,000 bricks were used.
The hotel was the scene of Railroad magnate Jim Fisk’s shooting, and in the early 1970s when the hotel was a welfare hotel and deteriorated greatly, the rear of the hotel was converted into the Mercer Arts Center, a multi theatre and arts complex by Sy Kaback.
On a late summer day in August 1973, a section of the 8 story facade and the floors behind it all collapsed onto Broadway- killing several people, hundreds of patrons who were due to attend the theatres that very evening escaped the disaster!
The buck stopped with the city who was notified about a serious crack and “bulge” in the facade wall, and other violations, they sent an inspector out, and despite requiring corrective action within 10 days, nothing was done and the city didn’t bother following up! Of the 308 residents, 4 residents were killed, 2 dogs survived days trapped in the rubble, one was adopted by the fire department. Consider that just between Nov 1970 and March 1973 there were 450 building and health code violations recorded in the hotel. Violations included illegal alterations, leaks in the plumbing, fire alarm malfunctioning, and of course the crack and bulge in the facade wall to name but a few.
On Jan 26, 1973 the Buildings Dept was notified by an engineer doing structural renovations at the hotel that brickwork was bulging out of bond, the next day an inspector found a crack stretching from the 2nd to the 6th floor separating the bearing and facade walls. What was happing there was the facade was moving away from the bearing wall in the center where the 2 walls connected to one another which ran East to West from Broadway to Mercer St in the back.
The inspector decided to call in the chief inspector, but neither wrote an official report! They did not issue a summons or record an official violation either, they “informed” the hotel manager who promised to take immediate action.
It wasn’t until Feb 22nd- almost a month later that it was re-inspected after “officially hazardous” conditions were first discovered, a violation was recorded then. It wasn’t even re-inspected again until March 29, NO repair work had even been done despite the 10 day law.
Still nothing happened as April, May, June and July rolled on by while a major crack from the 2nd to the 6th floor went un-repaired, then Friday August 3rd came around and residents reported hearing strange noises coming out of the walls, the Buildings Dept emergency number was called by Mercer Arts owner Sy Kaback and his wife over the weekend and they told them to call on Monday! The noises became worse and plaster was falling from the ceilings in places, so at least one if not 2 callers called the fire department and they were told that “strange noises are coming out of the walls” the person at the fire dept asked the caller if they had been drinking… amazingly, in the middle of that call with the Kabacks the line went dead because that was when the collapse happened and a large section of the stone and brick facade wall fell out onto Broadway and the sidewalk.
I communicated around 1998 or so with the owner of the Mercer Arts Center: Sy Kaback, and his wife, who together operated several live performance theaters in the back of the hotel, Sy’s wife described the scene to me and her call to the fire dept.
On the day of the collapse, the Mercer Arts Center was expecting a crowd of patrons for some live performances, and the Kabacks were gravely concerned about the falling plaster and cracking and other noises in the walls, they tried calling city agencies to get a go or no go because if they cancelled the event they would have been sued for breach of contract, OTH if they had a few hundred patrons in their theaters and something happened- they would be liable.
As it happened, the collapsed cccurred just hours before the events were to begin!
After the collapse, an emergency demolition was begun to demolish the entire building, that was when this then 13 year old author discovered the site and I began exploring it top to bottom during the demolition, the little Otis elevator plate was discovered after crawling down thru a hole in the rubble to a debris filled hallway in front of the elevator. The button plate and a number of other artifacts came home with me over the many weeks of demolition, and some of these will be pictured here as well.
But let us go back before the collapse, way back, back before the hotel was built and to the LaFarge House, this illustration will perfectly show my theory, which to my knowlege no one else has hiterto come up with;
The drawing on the left in the split image would have been done before the fire on January 8, 1854, Metropolitan Hall and the adjoining La Farge House were destroyed by the fire; but the hall was rebuilt and opened in the following September, under the name of the New York Theatre and Metropolitan Opera House.
Towards the close of the same year the house was remodelled and called Laura Keene’s Varieties; and in the following year, it became Burton’s Theatre. In 1859 it became the Winter Garden and Conservatory of the Arts, the first part of the title being that by which it is best known and which it retained until its total destruction by fire, March 23, 1867.
On the left is the old LaFarge House, on the right is the Broadway Central Hotel built on the site after the LaFarge burned to the ground in a spectacular fire, those words “burned to the ground, spectacular fire” are key to my theory, because while the building burned down, the stone and brick facade REMAINED largely intact, notice the red circles showing the very same unique window surrrounds on the LaFarge facade, a classical tripointed alternating with dioclesan pedimented windows, as well as the center entrance treatment. In other words what I strongly believe they did, was they REUSED the LaFarge’s facade and where it’s 6th floor shorter windows and cornice were- they removed the cornice, added a larger more dramatic cornice plus three more floors on top and a large central tower with a mansard roof!
So when we consider this, remember- the LaFarge facade was built for a SIX story building, it was exposed to a massive fire in the rear, collapse of the floors behind it, no doubt millions of gallons of water soaked into it’s footings and surrounding earth. Add now almost 70 years of subway trains vibrating it underneath, and an illegal doorway was cut thru the East-West brick bearing wall behind it in the basement, factor in the additional weight of three more floors and it should be no surprise it finally gave out.
The failure can be traced right back to the big fire, water, and adding three more floors on top of it causing instability and settling.
Probably THE earliest photo of the hotel, on the original image it is clear that final finishing work was still being done in the rooms behind the windows whose upper half is pushed down fully open, that dates it to about 1869, the horse-drawn carriages were in use before the trolly tracks came in 1892. With a larger scan of one part of the above image reproduced below, let’s focus on the remains of a painted SIGN clearly visible on the wall that says; “–ARGE HOUSE”;
THIS is where the original LaFarge House side wall left off and the new brickwork added to the left and above it, that one arch top open window’s lower half is exactly where the short square windows of the LaFarge were located, and that elaborate cornice with it’s large scrolled brackets is where the plainer LaFarge cornice was.
Some other artifacts from the hotel include a Tycos mercury thermometer from a basement
hot water tank, china and silverware with the hotel logo, and an ACME fire alarm box.
Interior cast-stone shown with an antique dirty bronze finish
The eagle plaque sculpture is a bas relief and after a design by Grueby Faience Co 1904. Grueby custom made tiles and ornaments for the NYC subway stations, and at the Union Square (14th Street), Brooklyn Bridge, and 33rd Street stations these eagle plaques were installed in two slightly different configurations.
All the ornamentation had been designed to help passengers recognize his or her station without the necessity of listening for the announcement or reading the signs.
The Interborough Rapid Transit Subway, or IRT, was the first subway company in New York City, and opened on October 27th, 1904
Station Decoration, Plaques: Grueby Faience Co. 1904.
Architectural Designs For New York’s First Subway David J. Framberger Survey Number HAER NY-122, pp. 365-412 Historic American Engineering Record National Park Service Department of the Interior Washington, DC.
SIZE: Nominal 24″ high by 19″ wide.
The plaque is one piece made to look like the multiple pieces the originals were made from, these can be obtained in your choice of any of my usual finishes and may be purchased at this url;
Sullivanesque panel, after historic artifacts once on the James W Scoville building, Chicago.
I am excited to offer this interesting Sullivanesque 1884 design after the artifacts that were connected to Adler & Sullivan, George Elmslie, Kristian Schneider, and once installed on the James W Scoville building in Chicago.
Those involved in creating the original 1884 Chicago design are said to have included;
George Grant Elmslie
Significance:The James W. Scoville factory building, designed by Adler & Sullivan contains three different designs belonging to the transitional period (1880 and 1890) of Louis Sullivan’s architectural ornament. This structure was the best and most ornamental of all the few remaining factory buildings by Adler & Sullivan.
Some of the original historic artifacts that were salvaged from the 1973 demolition are in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) and were gifted by the Metropolitan Museum, a set of three of these artifacts appears in the St Louis Art Museum’s web site of their holdings.
The artist working on the master clay model of this design from photos and known measurements
How the original artifacts were originally used on the Scoville building’s facade
The picture above is from a HABS study done before the building was demolished, three of these designs were installed together under the window sills on one floor.
One of my interior cast stone casts in the aged buff yellow finish shown above, the mold for casting was taken directly from the original clay model
In addition to the new “Artifact of the month” feature in which I detail the story, history and more of each architectural artifact in my personal collection, I decided to start a new “Sculpture of the week” feature which will showcase one of my sculptures each week.
Inspired by a terra cotta frieze on the historic Nortown Theater, Chicago, Illinois,
~ I present ~
Art Deco Nortown Spandrel Panel Nr D5
Nortown theater Art Deco D7
While the Nortown theater is long gone, you will be able to enjoy the lovely design in your home. Fans of Art Deco may have seen the Nortown theater in Chicago, the theater featured many interior plaster decorations as well as exterior terra cotta elements. Some of the limited number of ornaments were salvaged and were for sale, most of these exterior pieces were quite large at over 30″ wide and 20″ high, 4-6″ deep, my version of this is in a more apartment/home friendly size/weight at a nominal size of 21-1/2″ by 13-3/4.
The Nortown Theater was located at 6320 North Western Avenue, Chicago, IL and was designed by J.E.O. Pridmore in 1931, the theater was demolished in the summer of 2007. On the facade there was a frieze band on the ground floor composed of 4 different panels assembled in a set about 17 feet long. There were 5 sets total. The sets consisted of 3 panels with this design 31″ wide, 21″ high, 5-6″ deep alternated with a “tragedy” and a “comedy” mask, and capped on both ends with a square geometric block. Thus, there were only 15 panels with this design and 5 each of the masks made, most were salvaged and offered by an antique firm in Chicago for $750 and an even heftier price of $1850 respectively!
After I modelled this first panel, I modelled the other two panels with the tragedy and comedy masks, thus, the series of three of these panels are completed and available individually or as a set.
This ornaments on the building were probably made by the major company that supplied much of these to architects in Chicago- Midland Terra Cotta Co. It’s curtains for Nortown; 2 smaller cinemas to take place of old. Chicago Sun-Times, Aug 4, 2007 by Teresa Sewell The old Nortown Theater is finally coming down. The grand movie house hasn’t featured a film since 1990, but the building — famous for its striking seahorse, mermaid and zodiac motifs — has stood its ground at 6320 N. Western since 1931. Demolition of the Nortown began in 2007. Amrit Patel, who owns several Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins locations, wants to build a 70-unit, six-story condo building on the site.
To purchase one of the interior cast-stone versions of this panel, they are priced $179 each and include shipping to your door;
D5 is ALSO available in a hand-pressed, kiln fired red terracotta
Nortown theater Art Deco D5 terracotta rear view
These are made exactly like the original antique terracotta pieces were.
Each of theses terracotta sculptures are personally signed, numbered and dated works of art. Please note that hand pressed is NOT the same as the much cheaper, paper-thin ceramic “slip castings” used to produce teapots, china plates, bowls and ceramic pieces! The two processes are similar only in that both use a complicated plaster mold, the difference between slip casting ceramics and hand-pressing clay is- the slip is simply poured into the mold like a plaster cast, let set a while, drained and removed just like a plaster cast. Slip casting is a condensation process, with the clay particles condensing by gravity, slip castings are usually very weak, very thin, and easy to break, this process is used for mass production. Hand-pressed clay sculpture involves real work, physically taking the moist clay and both pressing and ramming small amounts of it into the plaster mold, pressing and working it in to remove air and squeeze the clay into all of the fine details. As the sculpture is built up to the top surface of the mold it is then levelled off on the back and hollowed out by hand, leaving the clay walls about 5/8″- 3/4″ thick.
Once the pressed-clay has remained in the plaster mold used to form it for a few hours, it is carefully removed and laid on a wire rack to begin drying. Here is another difference- the pressed-clay sculptures are completely gone over by hand with sculpture tools to add back any fine details, accent others, and generally clean up the whole surfaces, this is exactly the same processes used to create all of the architectural terracotta found on old buildings my work is based upon. These sculptures are fired in the kiln @ 2,079 degrees for about 36 hours.
Someone recently mentioned they “hate” terracotta because they had some in the garden that “fell apart,” please do not confuse THAT type of mass produced Chinese -JUNK sold for $9.95 at Walmart with fine hand-made sculpture! The reason their “terracotta” in the garden fell apart was that it was poorly made, poorly fired at the lowest possible temperature to save time and money, and the item was sold in garden stores cheap. This stuff is NOT real terracotta, I even suspect some of it is just red tinted plaster. Due to clays’ shrinkage, the terracotta version of my design is slightly smaller than the interior cast-stone version. NOTE: on the production time, I will try to keep a few of these on hand to ship quickly, however, if I happen to run out it WILL TAKE 3 weeks to make and dry one before it can be fired, 2 weeks of that is for the slow drying out process which can’t be rushed.
SIZE: Nominal 12-1/8″ high by 19-3/4″ wide, 2″ deep. WEIGHT: 29#.
These are priced $259 and include delivery to the lower 48 states, I only work with red terracotta.
Artifact: Keystone, lion with ring Material: Grey Terra Cotta Identification marks: 162. inscribed in clay on top Dim’s h/w/d: 22-1/2” x 14-3/5” x 10” Weight: 65# Origin: NYC tenement
A number of buildings in NYC feature this Roman inspired lion with ring keystone design, both with the integrated top cornice shown and without. The keystones date to circa 1905.
Lions depicted with rings in their mouth were popular back in the ancient Roman era and have been used in many different applications besides architectural keystones, such as drawer and cabinet pulls, carvings on furniture and soforth.
This particular keystone is identical to a couple I salvaged in NYC in the 1970s/1980s, though it is in better condition. This one was painted over at some point with gold paint of all things, it took a lot of effort to remove the stupid paint to restore it back to the 100 plus year patina. The gold paint is shown in the second photo below.
I am pleased to say I now have printing for the book arranged again and the quality of the printing is excellent as before. I tried an alternate printer that was a little less cost and as soon as I got the two samples I ordered I immediately regretted it, the photos were muddy and dark, the colors washed out and even the actual photos as printed were not as clear and were somewhat “hazy” as you can see in the photo below, the upper photo in each set is the alternate printer, the bottom was printed by Amazon/KDP, mind you the original Kodak print dates back to the 1970s and has damage to it that isn’t going to go away like magic at the printer, but you can clearly see how poor the alternate printer’s work was- darker, not clear, foggy or hazy, detail is lost, the colors are dull. In contrast the Amazon/KDP is warmer, clearer/sharper, no “haze” and more vibrant colors.
These are just quick snaps with an iPhone of the two books laid on the kitchen counter;
The gloss cover on both printed books however looked the same and excellent;
You can order a signed, numbered copy directly from me for $35 total, ppd, or you spend more and get it from Amazon for $39.95 plus tax and shipping but they won’t be signed or numbered as they won’t pass through my hands, link to order the book;
I’ve had this design in my lineup for quite a while, but this week a client purchased a cast along with several others and I started thinking that since I need to order in some materials, maybe now would be a good time to order what I need to “convert” this design so it can also be offered in my hand-pressed kiln fired red terracotta.
With an original selling for around $750 at salvage outfits I know there’s a lot of people who don’t want to pay $750 plus shipping for one of the originals, and only being able to obtain one, and it having chips and damage on top of that, but they would be interested in the design in a fired terracotta from me that can be purchased in the quantity they want or need at a quarter of that price, and they don’t have to settle for damaged goods either!
I’m going to have to make a new rubber mold to replace the old one I have for this as it is tearing due to the purple Quantum Silicones rubber I used years ago that turned out to be total garbage, once I do that I can pour a rubber positive in the new mold and then make the plaster piece mold off that to use for pressing the clay version.
The design is from the demolished Morton High School (1936, Hammond Indiana) This was George Elmslie’s final project before his death. Elmslie was the chief ornamental designer for Louis Sullivan. This piece is cataloged as an M-5 Main building cornice from the book Architectural Ornament by Krutty and Schmitt.
Hope to finally finish this Sullivanesque pier capital to-morrow, the clay is getting pretty firm despite being covered with plastic and spritzed with water, so it needs to be finished now.
It’s amazing how much time this design takes, probably twice what other models I’ve done have taken, there’s a lot of detail packed in on the surface!
I still have 5 of the 8 “squares” along the sides- the 4 on the right and the bottom left one to finish refining and cleaning up and then it’s done.
Now that the model is done it is drying out.
There is an 11 minute long timelapse video showing the whole modelling process on this start to finish over 3 months;
Now I have the first hand-pressed red terracotta architectural leaf blocks done and ready to start drying, this will shrink somewhat and I have not priced these yet, but pretty soon I will know the exact size it will wind up, and a price determined.
These would be very nice for accents or even in a row as a frieze band, they will be kiln fired, so they can be embedded into a brick or stone wall, or otherwise used outdoors.
I decided to make a mold of one of these ca 1880 leaf blocks that came from a frieze band on a mansion in Newark NJ that was demolished. It’s a nice little design and it will be quick and easy to make these in red terracotta like the original.
Now it will have to dry out for a couple of weeks before I can use it.
This is exactly what they used in ca 1880 to make the originals, though it was about 5-10% larger.
The design could be a styled boxelder tree leaf, there’s not a lot of trees that have leaves like the terracotta block has, but there are a few, of which the boxelder appears to be most similar;
Working now on final cleaning up, detailing and refining, I haven’t had time to work on it the last couple of weeks as other projects and things needed my attention.
I expect it will take quite a few more hours to finally get this done, the clay is getting firmer despite misting it with water and keeping it covered with plastic, so it needs to be finished as soon as I can get it done!