Today, after 30 years on the Upper East Side I settled in to my new home in Los Angeles. I will continue to write from here but for my farewell to the UES I am going to reveal some never before seen faces…
The building I grew up in, 4 East 88th Street, has been referred to as NYC’s finest example of neo-federalist architecture by the Carnegie Hill Neighbors Architectural Guide. Designed by Electus D. Litchfield and erected in 1922, the building features a “broken pediment” whose void, just atop the awning, is filled by a carved stone “potpourri” of heads.
No one seems to know for sure who these heads represent. It has been suggested that they are American patriots or that one is Electus Litchfield, the architect himself. I have also only read or heard the head count at four to five even though at least four are clearly visible from the street. But, lucky for me the sculpture sits in one of my family’s windows and during some recent construction I leaned out the window (over a scaffolding and set off an alarm) and photographed the heads as best I could.
There are 8 heads. They go all the way around as if the sculpture was meant to sit on a table or in a garden with all sides visible, and not up against a wall. Unfortunately, their condition has deteriorated over the years and you can see some repairs are also deteriorating. So far I have looked for Litchfield’s records regarding this building in his archives at Columbia University’s Avery Library to try to find out where he acquired the sculpture. The records for this building were not at Avery but there is a chance they could be in the archives at the Met Museum – a task for when I visit my parents in NYC or maybe a task for Christopher Gray.
Anyway, without further ado, I present to you all eight heads.
1. The Topper…
This rabbit hissed at my mom when we walked by a few days earlier. It bared its fangs which in “rabbit” means it was preparing to attack.
I can’t believe I’ve neglected you for over a month. I’m sorry! This is all I can offer for now, some free association…
The other day I was at the CHASE (formerly WAMU) on 88th and Madison, waiting in line to deposit a check. Only one teller was present and was busy helping a Hasidic man wearing ill-fitting pants, with a complicated cash transaction. After a few minutes a little old lady hunched over a small shopping cart joined me in line. Throughout the next eight minutes we waited and I glanced over my shoulder several times to see what she was up to. She was depositing a check- her name, an old fashioned Jewish one, and the address of a building on 87th Street between Madison and Park Avenue, were printed on it. The check was from the New York Lottery. I waited for the amount to become visible and after a few more minutes of shifting in our designated standing area, she moved her thumb over to reveal the staggering amount of $2.00. I looked her up and down and saw that her clothing was very well-made, old fashioned but definitely expensive. So that was kind of crazy.
Then, a few weeks later, I heard of an old man in a nursing home sending his younger relative often, to buy stamps for him. The stamps were for mailing in game pieces for some sort of lottery. His relative didn’t understand it but it seemed to be the old man’s favorite source of entertainment.
Then, the other day I noticed the newest New York Lottery gimmick- the ‘New York Lottery Black,’ another game piece like the rest but its design evokes classic New York luxury, like a 1950′s hotel advertisement, or a fancy whiskey.
I frown on the existence of a state-run lottery. It feels ruthlessly cynical to me that the government provides a pass time whose popularity rests on and highlights the most depressing aspects of the American condition.
I would be curious to know, though, how NY Lottery Black does in ticket sales and what demographic is buying these seemingly classy lottery tickets.