Hidden in the scattered grey and brick pattern of a building on Madison and 84th Street is a heart shape containing the letters I + R. I first noticed it a few years ago looking up for a second out of a cab window which just happened to be framing the secret message in such a way that it became easily discernable. I couldn’t believe I had never noticed it before.
My initial google research has yielded only this: an entry from Christopher Gray‘s Streetscapes/Readers’ Questions section of The New York Times, published December 2, 2001
The Mystery of I + R
Q: On a building at 84th Street and Madison Avenue there’s something very odd. Built into the brick, it says ”I + R”. It has white and gray bricks. Who is ”I” and who is ”R”? . . . Aaron B. Scheinfeld, Horace Mann School, the Bronx.
A: The building at 40 East 84th Street was designed in 1962 by Horace Ginsbern for the developers Jack Resnick and Philip Rosen. But the letters do not appear on Ginsbern’s elevation drawings, because it was not Ginsbern who specified the monogram in the brick.
According to Mr. Rosen, the letters memorialize his father, Isadore Rosen, a bricklayer who became a developer and who died just before this building was put up.
”He started building on his own account in 1929, a building on Macombs Road in the Bronx, and Mr. Ginsbern was his first architect,” Mr. Rosen said. ”Even though my father was a big contractor, every day he liked to go out and work with the men for about 15 or 20 minutes and lay a few bricks. The men respected him as someone who had worked his way up.”
Mr. Rosen recalled that one day while the 84th Street building was being put up, Carmine Barella, a bricklayer who had long worked with the elder Mr. Rosen, surreptitiously arranged the gray brick with the elder Rosen’s initials within a field of white glazed brick in a way that could not be detected until the areas were washed down.
The younger Mr. Rosen is still active in real estate, especially in Florida, and recalls the fine-tuning he put into the design of 40 East 84th Street. ”It’s got three colors: two shades of gray, and white,” he said. ”We wanted something a little different, not just plain white, and we wanted a prestigious building.”
What would the senior Mr. Rosen have thought if he had lived to see his initials on the facade? ”He would have appreciated the thought, but he wasn’t the type of man to be boastful,” his son said. ”He probably would have been a little embarrassed. He might have had it chopped out.” But his son left it in place.
It’s a sweet story, but does anyone else find it less than totally convincing? It most clearly looks like it reads I plus R. Traditionally, in a heart, this would mean I loves R, or at least indicate the union of two separate entities, not including the union of first name and surname.
I thought the symbol between the letters might have been meant to be a period and that there was no way to avoid its resembling a cross. But! If this were the case, would there not be a second period after the R?
Perhaps it really respresents a love that dare not speak its name…