West Side Monsters II

243 Riverside Drive (96th St)- The Cliff Dwelling

The southwestern decorative motif on this building is really something different. A giant cow skull sits at the center, while mask faces and line designs fill out the sides.

Note the use of swastikas in the building's upper corners! The swastika is an ancient mystic symbol- which was found in both the New World and the Old. Since it was adopted by the Nazi's of course, the swastika has been hopelessly tainted and you'd never find it in a modern decorative motif (for good and obvious reasons). The Cliff Dwelling was built in 1911 though, before the symbol had any such negative connotations attached to it.

continue up Riverside Drive to 110th Street and turn right to...

380 Riverside Drive (entrance on 110th)

I almost went right past this one, dismissing it as just another West Side building covered with Acanthus leaf brackets and scrolls (nothing against the floral stuff- but you have to draw the line somewhere, and my focus is on monsters). And then I saw the front door! The whole entranceway is held up by two huge male torso figures in Classical drape. The figure on the left looks suitably tortured, but the fellow on the right appears more bored than anguished. Also, in the center of the frame supported by the two figures, is the wreathed head of a mischievous Pan/Bacchus boy.

now walk east on 110th to...

527 W. 110th Street (between Broadway & Amsterdam)

(found on tip from Jean Greenberg) This one made me laugh out loud. Four large, comical figures (I suppose they're monks) sit on plaques set low enough that you can see all of their wonderful details. One is a rather bemused looking elderly scholar, one eats porridge, one is tasting soup from a pot, and one greedily clutches what appears to be a plucked chicken on a small platter. These same figures are repeated on the other side of the building, but are currently obscured by scaffolding. There are two more figure plaques on either side of the front door- and they seem to be singing (drunkenly?) Under each singing monk, are smaller faces, also wearing comical expressions. Look up to the upper molding strip to see a line of pointy hooded scowling monks, and a couple of winged beasts perched on the molding.

While photographing these figures, we learned from the doorman that this building has been granted Historical Landmark status and it was built between 1896-1910.

now head around the block to...

526 W. 111th Street (between Broadway & Amsterdam)

This building is tucked away on a shady block (we found it while looking for parking on our trip to the cathedral of St. John the Divine). The figure plaques are of a similar style to the ones on 527 W. 110th St., although not as large or overtly comical.

There are two alternating styles- one a scribe with a tassled hat and pointy shoes doing lettering with a t-square. The other figure is a bricklayer in high pointy boots and an apron, holding a trowel. The scribe at the west end of the building has actually lettered in the name of the architect and the building date.

Now, take a look into the courtyard. I think that this used to be a really beautiful building that fell upon some hard times. There's one row of stained glass windows left- but the rest have been either replaced with ordinary storm windows, or bricked up. I don't know whether or not the flower urns are original to the building, but I like them nonetheless.

from here, you should be in clear view of the last stop on this tour...

St. John The Divine (Amsterdam Avenue & 111th St.)

A visit to the cathedral church of St. John the Divine should be part of any thorough New York itinerary- whether or not you're a monster lover. The cathedral, still under construction, is the world's largest- and although it lacks the delicacy and elegance of the original cathedrals of Europe- it's still certainly an impressive structure.

Modern stone carvers from around the world come to apprentice at St. John's- it's such a unique project and opportunity. The cathedral shop has some fascinating information on this ancient craft, and you can see the fruits of their labor all over the cathedral's front facade on Amsterdam Avenue.

Monsters concentrate at the tops of the arches, and there are also spouts up higher. There are angel figures that fly out from above the arched doorways like spouts- and something about them keeps reminding me of the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where the spirits fly around and melt all the Nazi's who were trying to steal the Ark of the Covenant.

The cathedral is open daily from 7:15am-5:00pm. There is a vertical tour available as well, which takes you up into the rafters. I haven't taken it yet, but I plan to. If anybody out there has taken the vertical tour- feel free to write to me with your impressions of it.

Neighborhood Notes:The West Side is a monster lovers paradise, there is no way I can include them all. My best advice to you is to use this guide as a starting point and then as you continue to wander around- Look Up! In the meantime, try another of The Monster Walks

© 2003 Amelia Wilson. All rights reserved.