Will The Little Building Under The Bridge Be Saved??

One of my favorite structures in New York City is the little abandoned building under the 59th Street Bridge.

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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.

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Photo courtesy Greater Astoria Historical Society

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.

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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.

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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.

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My favorite newly uncovered bit is this beautiful sign, which frankly should be in a museum:

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I love the flourishes, the lettering, the details…

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Check out the face at the top…

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…and this interesting symbol in the center (I know one of you knows the name for it):

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Best of all though is at the bottom…

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…a pair of dragons, fangs bared, tongues out:

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The ornamentation continues above the sign, where you’ll find three leering faces (known as “green men”) and a seashell in the pediment:

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Above the company’s sign, another detail has been recently uncovered…

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…a very cool sign marking the building’s date of construction:

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There are two doors on the front of the building:

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The first is marked OFFICE, with a few more mischievous-looking green man overhead…

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…while the other finally identifies the building’s address as…

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…401 Vernon Boulevard:

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Both doors are lined with little bits of further decoration:

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A third sign was too far away for me to clearly capture…

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But you can see it’s just as beautiful as the others – note the flowers in the upper left:

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The details even continue to where you’re least like to notice them…

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…Not one but THREE different chimney designs:

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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.

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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.

-SCOUT

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46 comments

  1. FYI – For about the last week, scaffolding and netting has been up. Hopefully the restoration has begun.

  2. What a stunning building. Silver Cup deserves a big round of applause for investing the effort to restore it. I hope it becomes a major attraction for them.

  3. Bravo Silvercup. Glad to see someone has a little taste and a sense of pride. Scout: you really should include this on that future walking tour I know you’re aching to arrange!

  4. Oh lovely. What craftsmanship. You never see it anymore.
    Thank you. You just brightened my day considerably.

    And Silver Cup deserves much hugs and love, too, for doing the right thing. (That seems to be rare enough, too.)

  5. Beautiful building, too bad you couldnt get inside.

  6. I always loved this place, I imagined having a yacht slip on the other side make a fine country home out in the wilds of queens

  7. The lettering is beyond beautiful. PS It’s called lettering not a font.

  8. unfortunately, this COULDN’T have been done yesterday. they just don’t do it like this anymore…

  9. A great building…part of the larger Terra-Cotta Works. The site inspired me to create a Terra-Cotta Artifact Museum:
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1083393442967.2018279.1170298449&type=1

  10. Geez, Scout–you should have a warning at the top of this post! When I scrolled down to the company sign, my heart just about stopped.

    What a stunning, stunning building, and what great photos of its details. I could kiss Silvercup for restoring this! This is one of those buildings that lend character to our city and, once gone, tear a little bit of NYC soul away…

  11. I LOVE this building, too. I used to ride my bike and drive past it pretty often, admiring the chimneys and always wondering what was inside. When I saw your FB post, I got excited that I might see some interior shots. But your entry was awesome, nonetheless. Thanks for that, and for doing great work!

  12. (Looking forward to the developments across the river from there, too – on the southern part of Roosevelt Island.)

  13. This building is a gem. As kids in the 1950′s, my brother Lee and I would explore the area and admire this building. Just south of it was the Bodine Castle, built circa 1850 and located within a construction materials yard. We rode our bikes to the front of the castle and asked the office secretary if we could climb the tower steps. It was very narrow, we got dirty, but it was a lifetime memory. Next we headed to the support tower of the Queensboro Bridge and climbed the circular steps to the roadway, carrying our bikes. The elevator within each tower had been closed. Sometime later each outside tower entry door was sealed.
    For more wonderful memories, join the Greater Astoria Historical Society and read the newly written books on Long Island City/Astoria with tons of old photos.
    Bob Stonehill

  14. Absolutely fabulous!! Thanks so much for showing it. It is criminal that this beautiful place has been boarded up for so long!

  15. this is beautiful, what an amazing looking building, so representative of the romanticism of the time and the fashions of late victorian to edwardian scroll work. Would love to see inside reflecting the outside and not be made into some ultra modern office.

  16. This is one of my favorite buildings in NYC. First came upon it back in March. Glad to know that Silver Cup has it.

  17. This is really great news. My family drives past this building whenever we go to visit my in-laws, who live a short distance down Vernon Blvd from there. It wasn’t all that long ago that I was telling my wife and kids about what the building had been, and that it might soon be gone. Can’t wait to share this post with them, so they can see what was hidden right there in front of them.

  18. Scout,
    If you give me a snail mail address Friends of Terra Cotta will send you more info about the building and also make some corrections in the material written in your blog. We are very happy to see the NYATC Co. Office images and have been pressing the Landmarks Commission to get Silver Cup Studios to maintain the building for ages.
    The exterior sign on the side of the building says “New York Architectural Terra Cotta Company” and there is another copy of it inside the building over one of the main fireplaces. The interior one is signed by James Taylor, the “father of American terra cotta” and first the superintendent of the company.

    • I cannot tell you how much it makes my day to know that there is an organization called “Friends of Terra Cotta.” Can anyone join?

    • Interesting to hear about your organization. I work in the Flatiron Building, and have several pieces of the original terra cotta that were removed during renovations a few years back. I watched that renovation work with the utmost fascination, as I didn’t realize anyone was still working with it on large scale projects.

  19. Wonderful. what a beautiful building. keep up your great work scout! best wishes from Rome.

  20. What a fantastic building, I never knew that anything like this existed in New York. Let’s hope that the company restore it to it’s original condition and maybe open it to the public to appreciate.

  21. What an incredible building! It really would be a tragedy if it had fallen down from neglect or been knocked down. I’m really happy I know about this building now :)

  22. Nick, what a gorgeous building. At least on the outside. I am sure that a man with the skills you have shown us over the years could weasel his way inside. Of course being owned by a film company should grease the skids for you.

  23. Yay! This one’s in my neighborhood and I’ve always wondered about it because it was such a pretty building in such a random location. Where you taking pictures from the Ravel’s terrace?

  24. Cool ‘shots” scout. Excellent reporting and glad to learn the building
    is getting restored. This is what makes NYC awesome!

  25. One of the most beautiful NYC buildings I’ve ever seen. Ever. And that includes the oldies in Manhattan. wow.

  26. Kudos to Silver Cup Studios for taking on such a worthy project!!
    I dont even live there and thanks for saving it!!

    • WOW. Look at those four beautiful kilns behind the office! So sad to see this all gone and overgrown in the modern photos…

    • It’s too bad that website has potential misinformation on it. Look at the background. That’s the Queensboro Bridge being constructed. Construction on the bridge was completed in 1909, so the photo can’t be newer than that. Nearly all photos, artwork and written work prior to 1923 are now public domain. There are a few exceptions, but it would be difficult to believe this photo fell into one of the exception categories (adding their logo to the photo does not restore or extend copyright). I suspect that they have no business attempting to prevent use of that photo.

  27. So, maybe I missed it but what is Silvercup planning to use it for?

  28. Scout, I was again looking at these photos and as with so many, I’m
    enthralled by the details. You have an excellent and sometimes extraordinary gift in getting buildings like this angles that defy
    gravity. I don’t know if you use hydraulic lifts or helicopters but
    thanks again for the professionalism that’s so often exposed in your
    blogs.

  29. Got to be early 1940′s judging by the lines on the first car. Looks like a 1932 Ford behind the first car.

  30. The building was (still is?) the responsibility of Citibank (Court Square). The company I worked for in the 90′s, boxed out the architectural features for protection. To my knowledge, anything they would build on the site would require their preservation of the building.

  31. After reading the article with greater effort, I see all that I wrote above was alluded to already.
    I need another drink.
    Merry Christmas everyone!!

  32. Beautiful Post, thank you and please do post more of these. This building is a rare beatuy, a bit of preservation can take it a long way into the future.

  33. Is there a chance of getting photos of the inside?

  34. Watching old episodes of “30 Rock” (thanks Netflix) I saw THIS BUILDING in the background of a scene!

    In episode 320, “The Natural Order”, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) meets with private investigator Lenny Wosniak (Steve Buscemi). This building is visible in the background, never really in clear focus but it’s very obvious that it’s the one and only beautiful Terra Cotta!

    Love the site, by the way. I lost a few days reading from the beginning…I’m all caught up now :)

  35. So wonderful to see these photos-Terra Cotta house inspired a painting that has been exhibited many places . I’d bike by the little red brick house regularly, wonder about it and worry it might be taken down by some real estate developer. So glad to see it will survive! http://www.normagreenwood.com
    see ARCHIVED WORK page

  36. I am so excited, I hate beautiful old building left to decay…Thanks Silvercup…:)

  37. So what’s the status of the building now, Scout? Many of the comments here are over year old now. Can you give me an update?

    Excellent post, by the way!

  38. JAMES HAMILTON GEER

    IT IS GREAT TO SEE MY GREAT GRAND FATHER’S OFFICE BEING SO BEAUTIFULLY RESTORED-IT LOOKS MUCH BETTER THAN THE LAST TIME I WAS THERE AND TOURED IT–SOME YEARS AGO–WISH I COULD MAKE A CONTRIBUTION- BUT THANK YOU FOR THE TREMENDOUSLY GREAT JOB THAT YOU ARE DOING.
    SINCERELY,
    JIM GEER
    MAY 11. 2012

  39. I played in a couple bands that rehearsed in that building in the late 70s, early 80s, so we had the privilege of entering that building a few times a week. What a great place! I was saddened when they boarded up every interesting part of it a few years ago, so it’s wonderful to know that Silvercup should be renovating it. Has it been done, do you know? Thanks for the wonderful photographs!

  40. I have always wondered about this building. Glad to have finally got a brief history lesson on it. Thanks great work. As an aspiring musician I always said, someday when I make it I’m gonna buy that building and restore it to it’s original state and open up a recording studio/rock club. Then as I got older I said I want to buy it restore it and just live there. It has got to be one of the coolest buildings around. I hope someone has a vision to do the right thing before it disapears.

    Cheers

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