Monday, June 22, 2015

EAGLES and Other Winged Things: Photographic Encounters in NYC

This is another post illustrating some of my photographs taken last year. During my wanders about New York City in 2014, it seems that representations of eagles and a few other winged beasts kept vying for my attention.

I share fourteen of these with you, ordered chronologically by approximate date of production, since I could think of no better way to organize them.

Trophée d'Armes, Fort Jay, Governor's Island, NYC, 1790s

Located above the Fort Jay sally port, this Trophée d'Armes clusters a cannon, mortar, artillery shots, fasces, flags and several other elements around a centered, frontal eagle. The eagle clutches a shield depicting a rising sun.

Taken together, these elements symbolize the State of New York as well as America, and this monument may, indeed, be among the oldest monumental pieces of carved stone intended to represent our young country. 

The eagle had only became an official symbol of the United States a decade earlier, in 1782, when William Barton suggested that it be the main feature of the country's Great Seal. Among its competition for this honor had been the turkey, favored by Benjamin Franklin.

Owls & Globe, Ottendorfer Branch Library, 135 2nd Avenue, Manhattan, NYC, 1884

The Ottendorfer Library was the second branch of the New York Free Circulating Library, which had been established in 1879 to provide free reading material to all New Yorkers. The library system had expanded to eleven locations when, in 1901, it became part of the New York Public Library system.

The Ottendorfer is located in what, then, was known as "Little Germany," or Kleindeutschland, an area south of 14th Street and east of the Bowery. Assimilation, as much as learning, was the library's intention; and so, of its original bequest of 8,000 volumes, half were in German and half were in English.

This elegant, floriated string course featuring Owls and Globes, alludes to the wisdom and knowledge gained through book-learning. It also represents one of the earliest applications of terra-cotta ornament in New York City architecture.

Eagle with Flags, Target & Rifles, German-American Shooting Society, 12 St. Marks Place, Manhattan, NYC, 1889

Here is another remnant of Kleindeutschland, the German-American Shooting Society. Below the central Mansard gable of architect William Frohne's clubhouse is a seal showing an eagle "displayed:" frontal, with wings and legs spread wide. Above it are crossed rifles, a target, and the words Einigkeit Macht Stark, or "Unity Makes Strength."

Because Germany consisted of many small states and princedoms until unified in 1871 into a nation state under Kaiser Wilhelm, shooting clubs served as the local militias of those states. When transferred to America (and Brooklyn also had one), these clubs became major community social centers formed around shooting competitions.

The eagle we see here is not only a likely reference to the German coat of arms (which dates back to the Holy Roman Empire), but also to the highlight of the shooting competition held in these clubs; in that competition, an elaborately-carved, wooden eagle was a target to be dismembered by the club's sharpshooters.

Bat, Anonymous Stonecarver, Leech House, 520 West End Avenue, Manhattan, NYC, 1892

The residence of Isabella and John Leech was one of the grand mansions of the Upper West Side when completed in 1892. Its architect, Clarence True, began his early practice under Richard Upjohn, as later, William Van Alen would begin his under True. This link offers several good photos of the house.

This wonderful bat, squatting, wings outspread, dominates its foliated window sill, just east of the residence's main entrance. With a permanent winged greeter like this, one hardly needs Halloween decorations.

Phoenix, FDNY: Engine 55 Fire Station, 363 Broome St., Manhattan NYC, 1899

This could be an eagle, but the flames issuing from the broken, segmental pediment below suggest a Phoenix. Certainly, the themes of renewal and transformation associated with the phoenix make it an optimistic, and appropriate, symbol for a fire house.

Lunette with Eagle, 124 2nd Avenue, Manhattan, NYC, late 19th-early 20th century

Capping an otherwise fairly straightforward Lower East Side tenement, a "displayed" eagle takes up a full third of the building's width, making a brazen, decorative statement. 

The American architect and theorist, Robert Venturi and his partners surely would have seen this eagle as a precursor for their concept of the "decorated shed:"  a building whose space and structure serve a straightforward, functional program, but then it displays applied ornament which bears no relationship to that program.


Eagle Plaque, Heins & LaFarge, 33rd Street Station (#6 Train), Manhattan, NYC, ca. 1903

This Eagle Plaque, made in Boston at the Grueby Faience Co., was to be found in several of New York's subway stations of the Lexington Line, among them, the 14th Street and the Brooklyn Bridge stations. I see it as a strong, simplified version of the Great Seal of the United States, put to use as a station marker.

Eagle, Hamilton Fountain, Warren & Wetmore, Riverside Drive at West 76th Street, Manhattan, NYC, 1906

The Hamilton Fountain is among the few, remaining horse troughs that once served the City. It's donor, Robert Ray Hamilton, was a great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton.

At one time, the fountain also fed a trough in Riverside Park, directly below it to the west, a discovery made only seven years ago.

Eagle in Pediment, N Y County National Bank (orig.), 14th Street & 8th Avenue, Manhattan, NYC, 1907

From one bank to another to a men's spa and now, what's next for this bit of Beaux-Arts classicism? Through all these changes, the eagle remains, ever vigilant, "king of the skies," or at least ruler of its classical pediment. 

The original architect of the bank was Rudolph Daus, who set up his own studio in Brooklyn in 1884, after having worked in the studios of Richard Morris Hunt and George B. Post.

Eagle on Rostral Column, Graham Triangle, Menconi Brothers, 3rd Avenue & 139th Street, Bronx, NYC, 1921

This elegant Doric column, topped by an eagle, commemorates the citizens of the South Bronx who were killed in WWI. Among them was John B. Graham, whose name is given to the narrow, triangular oasis where it rises between three busy streets.

Eagle with Gospel of John + Symbols of the 4 Evangelists, Wheel Window, Church of St. John Nepomucene, 411 East 66th Street, Manhattan, NYC, 1925

Architect John Van Pelt, using brick and limestone to convey a rustic flavor, designed this church dedicated to the 14th century Bohemian saint, John of Nepomuk, in a style that references southern Italian Romanesque architecture. 

Here, above the main entrance, we see an eagle standing on the top of an arch holding a Gospel book; farther up, we see the four winged beasts, emblematic of the Four Evangelists, flanking the large wheel window.

Winged Wheel, Parking Garage Entry, West 101st Street, Manhattan, NYC, 1920s

My guess is that this garage structure dates from the 1920s.  It is one of two automobile entrances, both with a winged tire nestled inside the lunette of its arch. I would like to believe that this motif is a logo--but for what? Not Michelin (that's Bibendum); not Good Year (that's a winged foot); not Bentley (that's a winged letter B).

The closest approximation is the Detroit Red Wings logo (also a winged, spoked wheel), but that is shown in pure profile. Maybe it refers to a specific early 20th century urban parking system. If not, then it at least is a commendable artistic expenditure that tells everyone, "automobiles welcome here."

9/11/01 Mural, Scott LoBaido, Smith & Garnet Streets, Gowanus, Brooklyn, NYC, ca. 2002 ff

This mural of an eagle's head and the World Trade Center's twin towers seen against the ground of an American flag was done by Scott LoBaido, an artist who has dedicated himself to painting patriotic murals throughout our country.

During 2006, over ten months, in his Flags Across America project, Scott LoBaido drove across the United States and painted a large American flag on one rooftop in every state.  His stated purpose was to insure that returning soldiers, flying home, would be greeted by the flag.  

Bald Eagle, Peter Daverington, Part of the Audubon Mural Project, Storefront at 3623 Broadway, Manhattan, NYC, 2014

Once John J. Audubon found success in the sale of his Birds of America in the early 1840s, he bought property in upper Manhattan, in what is known as Washington Heights

Moving ahead some 170+ years, in September of 2014, the National Audubon Society issued its analysis of how the birds of America will (or might) respond to climate change. This report, Audubon's Birds and Climate Change Report, caught the attention of Avi Gitler, a local gallery owner.

Gitler proposed commissioning artists to paint bird murals on the roll-up steel security gates of local businesses in the neighborhoods adjacent to Audubon's final residence, thus piquing interest in the plight of America's birds.  

This is an on-going project, and it apparently has grown from an initial concept of a dozen birds to, now, an eventual depiction of each of the 314 species that the Report identifies as endangered.

I offer one of the earlier contributions, Peter Daverington's Bald Eagle, here rather dramatically lit by the early morning sun.

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