NORTH OF 96th ST. & ST. JOHN THE DIVINE
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
now walk east on 110th to...
527 W. 110th Street (between Broadway & Amsterdam)
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
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
While photographing these figures,
we learned from the doorman that this
building has been granted Historical Landmark status and it was built between
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).
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
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
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.