Click for large version of 1-JPG

All content
Copyright 2003 on behalf of its creators.
Please obtain permission for anything other than private use.

Roving Rube

Terra Cotta

July 7, 2003

37680 Lafayette Street












1888-89, Henry J. Hardenbergh; New York City Landmark.
New York Architectural Terra Cotta Company. Brick and stone with terra-cotta ornament. Commercial.
(Source: "Terra-Cotta Skyline", by Susan Tunick).

This building was previously featured here for its "dwarf columns"; the Rube at that time had thought they were carved out of Triassic Red Sandstone, but then thought they might be terra cotta. (In fact at this point he is driving friends crazy with "see that? That's terra cotta! See that? More terra cotta!") But now he is going back to thinking those columns were stone again. ... He's still got a ways to go as a terra-cotta hunter.

We learn in "Terra-Cotta Skyline" that one of the first attempts to use architectural terra cotta in this country was by Richard Upjohn in his Corn Exchange Bank Building of 1853; unfortunately it had been improperly baked in the kilns and was destroyed by frost the first winter! It subsequently had a bad reputation here which James Taylor, an English expert, encountered when he arrived in 1870. He was told by an influential architect:

Terra Cotta has been tried over and over again, and every attempt has resulted in loss and vexation to all parties concerned...If [the] young man intends to continue his trade of terra cotta making I would strongly advise him to return to England, for he will find it impossible to earn a living for his family at that trade in the United States. ("Terra-Cotta Skyline", p. 6)

Taylor went on to become "the Father of American Terra Cotta", eventually founding the New York Architectural Terra Cotta Company (in conjunction with O.B. Potter).

One memorial tribute summed up his contribution: "The truth of the statement that 'the works that men do live after them' is fully exemplified in Mr. Taylor. There is hardly as city in the United States that has not a monument to him and his work in the form of some fine building." ("Terra-Cotta Skyline", p. 12)

37680 Lafayette Street is one of many monuments in Manhattan to the life's work of James Taylor.

And here would be a proper place to encourage readers to purchase "Terra-Cotta Skyline" to read the full story of Mr. Taylor, and of architectural terra cotta in the U.S., as well as to see outstanding color photography of it (by Peter Mauss) from perspectives and resolutions we will not be able to come close to here. Also, fascinating archival photos and illustrations uncovered by Susan Tunic during her research.






























This page requires a 6.0+ browser for the pictures/text to display correctly. If you have an older version of Netscape, Explorer, or AOL, the text will appear cut off and the pictures distorted.