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Terra Cotta

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Roving Rube

August 2, 2003

Corbin Building, 11 John Street

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1988-89, Francis H. Kimball
New York Architectural Terra Cotta Company. Brick with brightly terra-cotta ornament. Office building.
(Source: "Terra-Cotta Skyline", by Susan Tunick).

We conclude our current series with the Corbin Building, which previously would have seemed another big ol' dirty building to the Rube (portrait view).

Despite the accumulation of more than a century of dirt on its facades, the nine-story Corbin Building is one of the handsomest early skyscrapers to survive in Lower Manhattan ... the building is divided horizontally with a three-story brownstone base and tawny brick above and is articulated by a series of one- to three-story arcades, several with projecting cast iron bays ... Frances H. Kimball was one of the most important early skyscraper designers in New York and was also a pioneer in the use of ornamental terra cotta. This is especially notable on the Corbin Building, with its elaborate terra-cotta columns, window enframements, and scalloped arches. [Sorry -- temporarily misplaced source for this quote! --ed.]

The Rube also likes the stone sculpture around the entrance.

The Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund is working to try to save the Corbin Building, which could be threatened by plans to create a much-needed new transit hub (described a "Grand Central" for Lower Manhattan) as part of the redevelopment of the World Trade Center Site.

In a city that often seems to be overly enamored with the new, the redevelopment must respect the old. It would be easy, in the spirit of wholesale renovation, simply to knock down the Corbin Building and build a transit center that looks more toward ground zero for inspiration than toward the old city of New York. ("Preserving the Corbin Building", New York Times editorial posted on

With this we conclude our current series on terra cotta, but hope to revisit the topic soon!

We thank Susan Tunic for allowing us to make such extensive use of her work, as well as the Friends of Terra Cotta for helping to preserve such treasures for the enjoyment of all.

All content �2003 on behalf of its creators.

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