The Coolest Locksmith Shop in New York City

Chances are, you’ve noticed Greenwich Locksmiths in your travels through the West Village. It occupies a small storefront just south of Commerce Street on one of the stranger parcels of land in Manhattan…

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And though it’s been in business since 1968, it really hasn’t changed all that much. Compare the recent picture above to one taken in the 1980’s…

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Then, last week, I received a letter from attentive reader Jonathan Burr, urging me to take a closer look at the building, as something had changed. I went by today – and was absolutely blown away.

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From a distance, it looks like a bunch of golden squiggles and spirals have been added, snaking whimsically across the facade. But get a little closer and you’ll find the real magic…

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The new design is made up entirely of keys:

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Literally thousands…

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…and thousands…

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…and thousands of keys, twisting into wonderful assortment of swoops and twirls.

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The key facade was designed and installed entirely by owner Phil Mortillaro back in October, and I can’t tell you how beautiful it is up close.

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It almost feels like the locksmith version of a Pollock painting – tens of thousands of keys seemingly strewn about haphazardly, yet in the mess, patterns emerge.

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More spirals by the awning:

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In the top corner:

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Even the inside of the door got the key treatment…

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I love the spiral below, almost like a bronze-colored licorice wheel -

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…around the mailbox…

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One enormous key overhead…

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…and more on the side:

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Feeling tired? Have a seat on Mortillaro’s hand-made chair out front…

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…which has gotta be one of the coolest chairs in New York (if not necessarily the most comfortable!):

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The seat:

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Mortillaro has apparently been looking to make his building more distinct for quite some time. On the Greenwich Locksmiths website, I came across a NY Times article revealing that, in 1991, Mortillaro reached out to an architect to redesign the facade. “What can I do with this place? It looks like any building on Queens Boulevard, I’m proud to be an American, I’d like you to make this a real American building.”

The architect came up with this:

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Wow! The Landmarks Preservation Commission gave its unanimous approval, and according to the article, Mortillaro was set to begin construction in 1992…but ultimately, he decided against it. “It would have been more Disney World,” he said in an interview.

UPDATE!

A bunch of people wrote to see if I could post a picture of the interior. Here it is, with owner and master key artist Mortillaro!

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A small triangular workspace measuring barely 50 square feet, man does it remind me of the Keymaker’s place in Matrix 2:

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Mr. Mortillaro’s custom-made clock (note all the skeleton keys on the left):

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Definitely check it out next time you’re in the West Village. And while there, why not get a key made? Now more than 40 years at it, Mr. Mortillaro is a Village institution, and is said to be one of the best in the business. Apparently, a sunglasses store offered to buy the building to “help him retire,” but he declined. “This is retirement to me…When I die, this will go too.”

Special thanks again to reader Jonathan Burr for pointing this out. Be sure to check out his writings on beer for TheDailyMeal.com.

-SCOUT

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66 comments

  1. Wow, that is just amazing! The # of keys boggles the mind, I wonder how they’re attached- solder?

  2. Ok amazing does begin to describe this work, Good for him

  3. Oh genius! That building ought to become a protected piece of art now–that is gorgeous!!

    Say, it reminds me of the building on E 5th St (just west of 2nd Ave, on the south side of the street) with the facade of pennies. I lived on that block back in 1991-92, when the owner was creating it. Back then, it was a store-front; now it looks like it’s become a private residence. Have you ever seen that one, Scout?

  4. What a wonderful idea! I have a huge can of old orphan keys in my garage, not sure why. Now I know what I can do with them (tho I suspect my final version will be nothing close to that!) Thanks for sharing.

  5. That is truly great! Original and well executed.

    I have wanted to do this with pennies, ever since I saw a floor completely mosaiced with small change. Unfortunately, our house was broken into last summer and amazingly, the burglars took my enormous bottle of pennies, which weighed about 60 pounds. Heaven knows how they managed to carry it with all the other stuff they stole, but there went my dream. Maybe it was my neighbors, who were kind of horrified at the idea!

  6. where in that building did he have room to save all those keys! there are probably a lot of empty drawers in there now! did no one notice it was happening at the time?

  7. When he goes, so will the company. That makes me so sad. All the true artists eventually die off, and then we are left with people who dont really care about their profession. Wah!

  8. I work pretty close to there, and have in fact passed by it many times, but I guess I haven’t in the past few months (haven’t been going out as much because of the cold) because I was not aware of this awesomeness. I’m going to have to check it out in person!

  9. I love that the phone number on the awning stays the same between pictures (and decades).

  10. Can’t wait to see how this will age over time. It’s fresh now, but will change in the coming years. Very cool.

  11. Suddenly Keys, Thousands of them!

  12. That’s absolutely amazing and wonderful to see some new creativity in a city that seems to be sinking into a sea of blandness. I want to get a new set of keys made now!

    And, kudos to you for being linked from fark.com

  13. Where did he get so many keys (right, locksmith – but still . . .).

  14. Wow, simply amazing. At first I thought blanks, but every key I can see in the images appears to have been cut. Just astounding.

  15. Hey! That’s my locksmith! He’s great :)

  16. Absolutely brilliant!

  17. This is so cool! I love it. I already have the welder. Now I need keys. Lots and lots of keys!

  18. I think it is fantastic; I hope they have put polyurethane on it so it can’t be messed up – and I WANT THAT CHAIR!!

  19. Beautiful and they also do amazing work. I’ve never been disappointed by them.

  20. I have been a locksmith since 1976, all miscuts and found keys go into 5 gallon buckets, I have about 6 buckets. Changing locks leaves us with a lot of worn keys that cannot be reused. Most are brass and brass prices are up along with all other metals including plastic. I live in Arizona, my plans for the blanks are to sell them for current metal prices, I will or my heirs will.

  21. This is fabulous! Thanks again, and again, and again, for your wonderful pictures of NYC

  22. I am also a locksmith, and like Rod Williams above, I turn the leftover keys into scrap. We fill about 8 mayonaise tubs a year.

    Even if I saved them for 10 years, would not have enough to cover my storefront.

    It may be pretty, it may be quaint, but I doubt the locksmiths shop featured with the neato store has anyone as talented as Williams.

    A gem in his own right, he has spent a decade sharing his love of the craft with the brothers in the trade on ClearStar and elsewhere.

    Just a note from one Rock* to a true gem !

  23. original and beautiful!

  24. How about thinking if your own headline and not stealing it from fark.com?

  25. If I haven’t been to fark.com then it’s new to me. It’s new to me.

  26. Truly awesome and original. How much enjoyment will all that work create! Thank you for the inspiration.

  27. Reminds me of this sculpture of Ben Franklin in Philadelphia: http://www.jepsculpture.com/benfranklin.shtml

    It’s a 9-foot bronze bust whose vestcoat is covered with casts of keys contributed by local schoolchildren.

  28. Mail Art Call. No deadline. Periodic documentation. Send found or unnecessary metal keys to fill the interior of a ’50 model Ford intended to confound future archaelogists.

    To: Fill The Ford (Fully) Folly
    908 E. Main Street
    Gurdon, Arkansas
    71743-1835 USA

  29. Glad someone finally blogged this. We stumbled onto it during a trip in December. I only got OK photos. When we got home, we were kind of surprised to find little-to-no info about it online, because it hadn’t been completed that long.

  30. I can’t believe that this cool place is right here in NYC and I’ve never seen it! Must investigate!

  31. Thanks for sharing. This is truly a labor of love and an inspiration.

  32. THank you so much for this article! Not only is it gorgeous and fascinating to know about, but I just went by and they can actually recreate my apt. key–it’s an insane european bank vault key that I’ve never seen anywhere else, or been able to find someone to copy–and they can. Yay for local experts!

  33. This is wonderful…thanks for sharing! Just wanted to let you that I did a tiny write-up about your article and your blog on my tiny blog (http://craftydill.blogspot.com/2011/02/keys.html) …everything links back to here.
    Have a great week! -Michelle

  34. I’ll bet all those keys that that’s Phil, last man on the right in that photo back in the 80’s.

  35. This is simply an amazing art form. Kids as well as adults whoever sees this will feel astonished. Great piece of work!

  36. This key shop is much nicer but kind for reminds me of the passion that went into the beer can house in Houston.
    http://www.beercanhouse.org/gallery.php

    It takes all types

  37. chaves, chaves, chaves… pra quê tantas fechaduras?

  38. Here is an example of a proud american desiring a cool american building, who swats the idea of going neohistorical. Good for you Montillaro to set a wonderful example. And buck up local architect!

  39. Wow! Mind blowing! I go to New York almost every year and will definitely check out this place.

  40. LOVE IT!!! I def will check it out next time I’m in the village!

  41. When are we going to recognize this as a work of art?

  42. Ever seen a Lock Museum? There is one at 20 West 44th Street.

  43. Absolutely amazing

  44. Now I know what to do with my ol;d keys.

  45. This is amazing. I mosaic with glass, china and “found” items. Mr. Mortillaro is indeed an artist! Thank you for sharing his awesome work.

    I have never been to NYC :( I was as close as Newark Airport earlier this month. I will be back and this will be on my list of places to see! I am also so happy to find your blog. I can use all of your good info about what to see in the City!

    I am better this day for seeing looking and reading about this talented man!

  46. Ok amazing does begin to describe this work, Good for him
    Bridgeport locksmith

  47. I would like to do this job what do i do

  48. the site’s car locksmith service is offered 24 hours every day, 365 days a year. their technicians are absolutely insured and offer quick and reliable service at affordable costs. and additionally install and repair all lock and key systems including deadbolt door locks, padlocks and security lock systems, and we have a tendency to’ll build transponder keys or commonplace automobile keys for nearly any vehicle.

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  51. Wow! i was amazed by this post really cool. i learned something here that i can use on my business. thanks for this!

  52. Greetings! I’ve been following your blog for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Humble Texas! Just wanted to mention keep up the excellent work!

  53. hats off to locksmiths……..
    Really Nice Post.. :)

  54. Very nice page, I didn’t know that locksmith staff can be so interesting, specially liked the keys chair image.

  55. Wow I didn’t know that keys could be so beautiful,
    Cheers

  56. That Is a really cool wall of keys how long did it take to make?

    That is true Key Art!

    Cheers

  57. I wonder how long it took to create this beautiful piece of key art. It takes a lot to grab the eye of a New Yorker and this place surely does.

  58. Your locksmith NYC alterations a combination involving fasten, develop recommendations, restoration your shattered a lock along with drive a lock. Numerous locksmiths are generally actually working at your outlets involving locksmith along with number of manage his or her corporations. Often your locksmiths utilised by your computer hardware merchants. The opposite locksmiths are generally appointed genuinely by simply designers in the safes along with genuinely with the business businesses. Your locksmiths commonly find out your buy and sell all over in operate coaching that will normally usually takes normally the one thirty day period on the a year, depending upon precisely how special position. Regular once-a-year income in the locksmith ended up being via 27 1, 000 us dollars on the fourty six to eight us dollars, as outlined by an affiliate site involving shell out range.

  59. In the primitive times, you must have the information there were the locksmiths who useful to spend the periods getting work done in the workshops for only making the keys and locks. The less science and really more of the art locksmith were needed in the past times as well. In this era, the locksmithing has truly get to be the contrasting trade. In this era, there’re the golf pros who truly take up job of locksmiths NYC. With the modern technology in the hands, and lots of the creativity in the mind, the locks have truly got the new image and the place in the consumer paper hearts.

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  63. Yes I love it too, Check it next time! visit http://minneapolislockskeys.com/ or call us 612-284-5122.

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