The Hungry Gargoyles of 110th Street

One of my favorite buildings in Morningside Heights is the Britannia at 527 West 110th Street.

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The building, built in 1909, is divided into two wings and features two rows of fantastic gargoyles below the second floor balconies:

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What makes this building particularly great is how low the gargoyles are to the ground. At only ten feet up or so, a passerby can actually appreciate their design (as opposed to those stationed tens or hundreds of feet up that seem to have been put in place only for the birds).

The gargoyles were said to be “symbolic of some form of the homely art of housekeeping,” according to a recent NY Times Streetscapes article, but nothing more is known to elaborate on this. First off is a man writing in a ledger, a very shifty look on his face:

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Next is a man carrying a platter with a roast chicken:

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Next is a man eating from a bowl:

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Finally, there’s the cook, stirring a pot and taking a taste:

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So money, ingredients, preparation, and consumption? The building features other interesting design elements as well…

Next to the entrance, these two figures seem to either be yawning or laughing at approaching visitors (either way, I think we can agree they’re not very impressed).

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An interesting note: the front courtyard is unusually large for New York, and was once used by motorists to turn around in.

If you go to the rear of the building on 111th Street, you’ll find an interesting row of reliefs…

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…which appear to show builders and the architect. I love how the builder seems to be working on the building’s bricks. The relief on the right is unique in that it shows the date of the building’s construction).

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The rear of the building has a courtyard as well…

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…featuring a line of beautiful stained-glass windows with a medieval motif (one wonders if that second row was once all windows, having been replaced with an elevator shaft or something).

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The designers described the building as “perhaps the most homelike apartment house in New York,” and a review by an architectural magazine compared it to “the old English house.” Definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area (and swing around the corner to Koronet’s on Broadway between 110th & 111th for the biggest slice of pizza available in NYC).

-SCOUT

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12 comments

  1. I’m glad somebody noticed these apart from me – I shot a few when I moved to the area a couple years ago (now moved away).

    http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=20715243%40N00&q=gargoyle&m=text

  2. I work right around the corner from this apartment and I’ve always meant to take pictures of the interesting gargoyles out front – thanks for doing it for me — and pointing out lots of other features that I wouldn’t have saw.

    Oh btw.. thanks for pointing out the owl at Columbia — I went by and was able to find it but would never have known to look if i hadn’t read about it here.

  3. Wonderful! I’m sending it on…….

  4. My mother used to live there! And my father lived across the street.

  5. Very nice! The building’s a gem! Do you have any idea who did the sculptures, or why most of them have to do with eating? I really like the economical way the sculptor was able to get the character and the spirit of each figure.
    Thanks

  6. The figures by the entrance look as is if they originally supported something between them (arm position/flattish upper surface).
    Any old photos?

  7. These are not gargoyles. The name gargoyle comes the french language, and it is discriptive of the sound rain makes when it rushes through the drainpipes in the mouths of gargoyles. So if it doesnt have a drain pipe coming out of its mouth its a grotesque.

  8. I lived next to this awesome building for many years and marveled at the grotesques, as you have. I once attended a wedding at the Salmagundi Artists Club at Irving Place in NYC. to my amazement, one of the smaller meeting rooms on the main floor includes what must have been a wooden mock up for this series of hungry personalities. If anyone has anymore information about this, I’d be most interested. Thanks.

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