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The U.E.S. Journal

Monthly Archives: August 2007

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I + R

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…


As I was saying, I saw this car last night parked in the 80′s between Madison and Fifth, prompting this train of thought:

Someone once suggeseted in one of my classes at art school that in our consumer culture we only have the illusion of choice when it comes to what we consume. This is because the public generally does not really know what it wants – it only believes it does within the limits of what it is presented.

Whether that theory is generally true or false, I do not know. But I do know one thing I want…

Back to the Batman car – wouldn’t it be funny if an actor who had starred in one of the Batman movies where the character is very developed – if this actor, a year or so after the film has been released, say even after the DVD has been released, and any press hubub concerning the movie, any promotions one might expect to see around town are finished – this actor gradually tries to assume the character of Batman in real life.

At first, maybe a tabloid or more likely a gossip blog would catch a photo where it appeared as a funny coincidence that this actor was wearing an outfit slightly reminiscent of Batman. The change would be very gradual and the actor would never discuss or advocate anything to do with Batman, but eventually it would be noticed and commented on by more and more press, pundits and tabloids – until it was generally accepted that the actor had gone crazy – but in a lighthearted funny way.

So what I want in general is a new set of celebrity scandals. Especially when it seems that some of them are manufactured to attract attention, at least put a little thought into it! Give us a work of art. A story so good, an anecdote so delightful that it will be told for generations to come.

Meditations on the quest for The Upper East Side or Sometimes I feel like Indiana Jones…

I know lately it might seem like the journal has been focusing on superficial aspects of the area – cabbage, signage, etc. But I hold all of these things in my line of vision as suspect; suspect of containing an interesting story, an anecdote; or of possessing the potential to inspire some meditation leading to the unleashing of unusual thoughts only accessible by that trigger.

Walking around the neighborhood, I am an outsider to everything except my apartment and the schools I attended. Starting from the outside, penetrating the red bricks, the co-op boards, to a specific conversation or debate would thrill me. I want to know how each decision was made that brought about what we see here today – those decisions collectively being so powerful as to intentionally and accidentally design what we the public experience as The Upper East Side.

Seeing something and then investigating it- this method of inquiry often leads to something fruitful like after seeing the big American flag on 1088 Park Avenue and finding Charlotte Kidd who knew how to illuminate the subject personally and skillfully. Everything has a story and it’s a matter of finding the person who realizes that the story is worthwhile and can tell it well.

Ask yourself, do you possess any of these treasures of hidden knowledge?

Do you or someone you love have a story about The Upper East Side you would like to reveal to the public on the internet?

Paris Pigeon

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