One of my favorite structures in New York City is the little abandoned building under the 59th Street Bridge.
One of the more adorable abandoned buildings you’re likely to ever come across, 401 Vernon Boulevard was built in 1892 as the office for the New York Architectural Terra-Cotta Works, the company that supplied terra-cotta for Carnegie Hall and the Ansonia Hotel, among others.
The company went out of business in the 1920s, and the building has been vacant ever since. It was eventually bought in 1970 by Citibank, who boarded it up but couldn’t tear it down due to its landmark status. Left to rot for decades, I’ve always just assumed that one day, I’d drive by and find that the whole damn thing had collapsed.
But something has been happening at the old Terra-Cotta building. On recent drive-bys, for the first time ever, I’ve seen people working on it. And then, in the last few months, much of the boards have been removed, revealing just how beautiful this little building is.
As it turns out, the Terra-Cotta building is now owned by Silver Cup Studios, who has been restoring the property. I stopped to check it out recently, and was blow away by the detail and ornamentation. This building wasn’t just an office for the Terra-Cotta works – it was itself a showcase for the company’s work.
My favorite newly uncovered bit is this beautiful sign, which frankly should be in a museum:
I love the flourishes, the lettering, the details…
Check out the face at the top…
…and this interesting symbol in the center (I know one of you knows the name for it):
Best of all though is at the bottom…
…a pair of dragons, fangs bared, tongues out:
The ornamentation continues above the sign, where you’ll find three leering faces (known as “green men”) and a seashell in the pediment:
Above the company’s sign, another detail has been recently uncovered…
…a very cool sign marking the building’s date of construction:
There are two doors on the front of the building:
The first is marked OFFICE, with a few more mischievous-looking green man overhead…
…while the other finally identifies the building’s address as…
…401 Vernon Boulevard:
Both doors are lined with little bits of further decoration:
A third sign was too far away for me to clearly capture…
But you can see it’s just as beautiful as the others – note the flowers in the upper left:
The details even continue to where you’re least like to notice them…
…Not one but THREE different chimney designs:
What really blows me away is how all this ornamentation was crafted over 100 years ago, yet looks like it could have been done yesterday.
As a landmarked building, the Terra Cotta building can only disappear due to neglect – and it appears that Silver Cup is not going to let that happen. According to Alan Suna, CEO of Silvercup Studios, “We don’t know what it’s future is right now, but we’re restoring it just the same to make it ready for whatever the future will bring.”
Looks like the little building that could might just make it for another hundred years.
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