Monday, June 1, 2015

Bits and Pieces: Polychrome Terra Cotta- and Tile-Clad Buildings

While wandering around New York City taking photos of architectural ceramics and glass, I’ve come across many buildings with facades clad with polychrome terra cotta or tiles, or buildings with fragments of terra cotta that only hint at what they once were. Below are some of these buildings.

226 East 70th Street, Manhattan

Entrance to 226 East 70th Street, Manhattan. Manufacturer unknown. (Color photos courtesy of Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted.)

A search of the Office for Metropolitan History’s New Building Database for Manhattan shows that in 1927 the architect, Joseph Martine (of 1482 Broadway), designed this building for Leo Bernstein of the Bruitford (sic: should be Brentford) Realty Company. The building is a six-story brick tenement, 125’ wide by 100’ deep. (  The owner obtained a Certificate of Occupancy, No. 14429, in 1928.

The front double-door entrance of this building is flanked by spiraling terra cotta columns topped by a semi-circular terra cotta panel.

Very little is known about the architect, but The Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote about “Joseph Martine,...who has designed many of Brooklyn’s newest houses as well as hundreds on Long Island and in Westchester County.” (“Suggests Newlyweds Plan 6-Room House To Be Only Temporarily Two-Family”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 7, 1929, p. G3)

Ehrich Brothers Emporium/J. L. Kesner Building, Manhattan
(695-709 Sixth Avenue)

This building was designed in 1889 by the architect William Schickel as the Ehrich Brothers Emporium. The Ehrich Brothers store closed in 1911 and the building passed to Chicago merchants J.L. Kesner Company. Architects Taylor & Levi added new storefronts with Arts and Crafts style pilasters with terra cotta tile panels sporting the initial "K". The tiles were made by the Hartford Faience Company. Kesner moved from the building in 1913 (, and the building is currently occupied by Staples and the Burlington Coat Factory. The building is within the Ladies Mile Historic District and has an elegant cast iron facade. The Kesner Building is built in the Renaissance Revival tradition. There is some damage to the tiles due to neglect.

A tiled storefront and pilaster in 2000.

Two closeup photos of the pilaster tiles (courtesy of Michael Padwee), and one of a damaged pilaster showing holes cut through the tiles. (Photo:

The Hartford Faience Company was located in Hartford, Connecticut. This company was founded in 1894 as the Atwood Faience Company by Eugene Atwood, who had been a partner of William H. Grueby in Boston. (Susan J. Montgomery, The Ceramics of William H. Grueby, Arts and Crafts Quarterly Press, Lambertville, NJ, 1993, pp. 13-16) 

The Ambassador Apartments, Staten Island
(30 Daniel Low Terrace)

(Photo from Jan Somma-Hammel, “Cool Spaces: Staten Island's Ambassador Arms, an Art Deco classic with star-studded history”, Staten Island Advance, September 15 and 19, 2014;

In the mid-1990s I worked on Staten Island. A few blocks from my office (and from the ferry terminal) was an apartment building at 30 Daniel Low Terrace in the St. George/Fort Hill neighborhood ( near Belmont Avenue, the Ambassador Apartments.

The street was named for a member of one of the early families that settled the area. The art-deco style gold, blue, white and pink terra cotta panels above the entrance and the first floor windows were possibly manufactured by the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company of Staten Island and Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The building was built in 1932 and designed by the architect Lucien Pisciotta. The lobby of the building still has the original tilework and fireplace ornamentation. (

Terra cotta at roof line; terra cotta ornamentation on facade; lobby tiles and fireplace ornament. (Photos from Jan Somma-Hammel, “Cool Spaces: Staten Island's Ambassador Arms, an Art Deco classic with star-studded history”, Staten Island Advance, September 15 and 19, 2014;

The Park Plaza Apartments, Bronx
(1005 Jerome Avenue)

The Park Plaza Apartments. (, photo taken by "Jim.henderson" in March 2011) 

In the Bronx, in the shadow of the original Yankee Stadium, stand the “Park Plaza Apartments [which] were one of the first and most prominent art deco apartment buildings erected in the Bronx in New York City. The eight-story, polychromatic terra cotta embellished structure at 1005 Jerome Avenue and West 164th Street was designed by Horace Ginsberg and Marvin Fine and completed in 1931. It is an eight story building divided into five blocks or sections, each six bays wide. There are about 200 apartments, ranging from one to five rooms." (

"[…The] most unusual architecture-related imagery can be found on the Park Plaza... . 

"A terra-cotta panel depicts a kneeling figure symbolically offering a skyscraper before an architectural alter on which the Parthenon is placed! 

"Additional polychrome plaques showing the city skyline and the rising sun also embellish this 1929-31 building." (Susan Tunick, Terra-Cotta Skyline: New York's Architectural Ornament, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, NY, 1997, p. 98)

The polychrome terra cotta was installed between 1929 and 1931, but it is not known which company manufactured the terra cotta. These buildings were listed as a New York City landmark in 1981 and in the National Register of Historic Places in June 1982 under reference number 82003346.

753-755 Flushing Avenue/738 Broadway, Brooklyn

There is a building at 755 Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn, just off Broadway and across Flushing Avenue from Woodhull Hospital, that has the remnants of polychrome terra cotta cladding. Much of the remaining terra cotta is obscured by signage, and I believe some of the terra cotta may have been removed in the past.

It is not known if the "TFC" tiling is original to the building or a result of one of the renovations.

Currently, this is a pharmacy. In the 1990s it was a fast food restaurant. The building, 753-755 Flushing Avenue, goes through the block at an angle to another entrance at 738 Broadway. A Certificate of Occupancy from 1929 shows renovations to this building completed by Stuckert & Leo, architects. And another CofO from 1951 shows more alterations to the Flushing Avenue exterior. The terra cotta manufacturer is unknown to me.

The polychromed terra cotta tiling rises from halfway up the inner doorposts (753 and 755 Flushing Avenue) and extends around the entryway arches.

There is at least one course of tiling that runs from the 755 entryway to the 753 entryway above the arches, but this is obscured by the signage on the building. Originally there may have been additional terra cotta on the upper floors of the building, but there is no proof of this at this time.

713-723 Nostrand Avenue/855-859 Sterling Place, Brooklyn

The building is “clad in  buff brick and terra cotta under a parapet with urns over bosses comprised of acroteria accentuated with puti; polychrome terra cotta cladding with baroque-inspired figural and foliated ornament; arched second-story windows with bundled polychromatic terra-cotta surrounds, some with decorative bosses.” (National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Crown Heights North Historic District, August 14, 2013, Section 7, p. 127)

A corner building located at 713-723 Nostrand Avenue exhibits baroque polychrome terra cotta cladding. “The property is a two story retail building consisting of 7 units located on Nostrand Avenue between Sterling Place and Park Place. It is on a highly trafficked block in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.” (  This building is further described in the Crown Heights Historic District II Designation Report: “Commercial buildings [in the district]...include the two-story building at 713 Nostrand Avenue..., which was designed by Isaac Kallich and completed c. 1929 [New Building # 2387-29]. Although its ground floor has been altered, this building’s second floor is a lively and fantastical display of Baroque Revival design, executed in polychrome terra cotta. Like the movie palaces of the time, which were often designed in freely adapted versions of exotic historical styles, this building was a place of amusement, constructed as a bowling alley and billiard hall.” (New York City Landmarks Commission, Crown Heights North Historic District II Designation Report, Edited by Mary Beth Betts, June 28, 2011, p. 30)

“Isaac Kallich [d. 1962] studied architecture in Odessa, Russia and completed his training at New York University. He practiced architecture in New York City for over fifty years and headed the firm of Kallich & Weinstein in Brooklyn.” (Crown Heights North Historic District II Designation Report, p. 522)  The New York Times has numerous articles that mention apartment buildings and single residences built in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn during the 1930s-50s, all designed by Isaac Kallich or his firm.

The Philadelphian Sabbath Cathedral/Kameo Theatre 
(530 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn)

The Philadelphian Sabbath Cathedral, started out “ the Cameo Theater in February of 1924. ...In 1925, the Loew’s chain took over the theater and renamed it the Kameo. It remained a movie theater until 1974, after which it was sold to the church. Although it needs to have the grime of the city removed, the terra-cotta ornament is well preserved and highly unusual. The structure of the roof theater remains as well. Inside, the church has preserved many of the original details. ...The architect, Eugene Wiseman, was a veteran theater architect." (  

A suggested terra cotta facade for a theater in which advertising space becomes part of the artistic composition of the building. (National Terra Cotta Society, Architectural Terra Cotta Brochure Series, Volume Two, The Theatre,  1915, frontispiece and p. 20)

As in most of the above buildings, we do not know the manufacturer of the terra cotta, but the facade illustrates one of a number of suggestions made by the National Terra Cotta Society in 1915 for a terra cotta theater facade.

Thomson (or Thompson) Meter Company/Eskimo Pie Building, Brooklyn (100-110 Bridge Street)

“The Thompson Meter Company Building is located on the southwest corner of Bridge and York Streets in the DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) area of Community District 2, Brooklyn. ...The landmark building housed a manufacturer of disk water meters and later was acquired by the New York Eskimo Pie 1926. [The c]ompany founder, John Thompson, is credited with inventing the disk water meter that was only one of four types approved by the Commissioner of Water Supply in New York.” (City Planning Commission, March 24, 2004/Calendar No. 33, N 040295 HKK, “In the Matter of a communication dated February 19, 2004, from the Executive Director of the Landmarks Preservation Commission regarding...”, pp. 1-2)

The building displays a fairly early use in New York of polychromatic glazed terra cotta in order to add elaborate and colorful decorations to the plain concrete exterior. “Designed by Ecole des Beaux-Arts educated Louis Jallade*, the Thomson Meter Company Building incorporates the innovative reinforced concrete construction system developed by French engineer François Hennebique** in 1892. Relatively rare in New York City, the system permitted large, open and flexible interiors that must have been extremely handy in the manufacturing of the Thomson’s disk water meters. Jallade purposefully left the exterior structural concrete unclad so as to highlight this new, modern material – presaging the exploration and celebration of industrial materials later used extensively in the Modern Movement. However, on the building’s spandrels, Jallade incorporated extraordinary and colorful terra cotta ornament which gives the building a classical feel.

"The polychrome terra cotta reflects the design of many French buildings, both in its placement against the concrete background and in the use of motifs, such as chestnut leaves, which were prevalent in France. Of particular note are the terra cotta cartouches at the building’s corners, bearing the linked letters T and M for the building’s original owners. Today, the Thomson Meter Company Building is the best example of a terra cotta and concrete structure in New York City, if not the entire East Coast.” (“Statement of the Historic Districts Council, December 9, 2003, Regarding the Thomson Meter Company Building, 100-110 Bridge Street; 

*[Louis Jallade (1876-1957) “had come to the United States in 1877 and had been naturalized in 1897. He was a student in the New York Latin School from 1886 - 1892 and then studied in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Schools from 1892 to 1896. After three years in the ateliers of the Beaux-Arts Society in New York, Jallade went to Paris to study in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (1901-1903) in the Atelier Laloux. Upon his return to the States, Jallade entered the office of Allan & Collins in Boston and was placed in charge of construction for the Union Theological Seminary in New York. By the end of 1906, however, he had set out on his own and constructed an illustrious career with a concentration on YMCA buildings (Norfolk, VA; Newport, RI; Roanoke, VA; Worcester, MA; Allentown, PA; McKeesport, PA; Hartford, CT; Passaic, NJ). In addition to a great number of YMCA structures, Jallade undertook a general practice that included churches, college buildings, hospitals, factories, hotels, garages, residences, schools, and libraries.” (]

**[François Hennebique (1842-1921) “was a French engineer and self-educated builder who patented his pioneering reinforced-concrete construction system in 1892, integrating separate
elements of construction, such as the column and the beam, into a single monolithic element. The Hennebique system was one of the first appearances of the modern reinforced-concrete method of construction. Hennebique had first worked as a stonemason, later becoming a builder, with a particular interest in restoration of old churches. Hennebique's Béton Armé system started out by using concrete as a fireproof protection for wrought iron beams, on a house project in Belgium in 1879. He realised however, that the floor system would be more economic if the iron were used only where the slab was in tension, relying on the concrete in the compression areas. His solution was reinforced concrete – a concrete slab with steel bars in its bottom face. His business developed rapidly, expanding from five employees in Brussels in 1896, to twenty-five two years later when he moved to Paris.” (çois_Hennebique)]  

It is my hope that those who read this will look up when walking around their city or town. See what types of ornamentation the architects and builders have used on their buildings to catch the eye of the beholder.


In a previous blog post I discussed some of the color theories that were important to the architectural terra cotta industry. The books below also discuss the use of color in architecture, among other topics.

Susan Tunick, Terra-Cotta Skyline, Princeton Architectural Press, Princeton, NJ, 1996.
“Terra-Cotta Skyline presents the history, manufacture, and art of architectural terra cotta through documents, drawings, archival photographs, and brilliant new color images commissioned for this book. Lively accompanying text based on extensive research provides anecdotes and insights into the working methods of the architects, sculptors, and artisans who designed with terra cotta -- and the entrepreneurs and laborers involved in its production.” ( 

Regina Lee Blaszczyk, The Color Revolution, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2012. 
"In this book, the award-winning historian Regina Lee Blaszczyk traces the relationship of color and commerce, from haute couture to automobile showrooms to interior design, describing the often unrecognized role of the color profession in consumer culture. Blaszczyk examines the evolution of the color profession from 1850 to 1970… ."

A newly published article that illustrates the use of ceramics in New York City architecture by Garth Clark, "The New Ceramic Art Gotham", can be accessed at:


Now that Christopher Gray has retired his weekly “Streetscapes” column in The New York Times, we have lost what was probably the best continuously-written source of information about the history of architecture in New York City.  All of Mr. Gray’s “Streetscapes” columns have been digitized, however, and a listing is available here

Daytonian in Manhattan is an historical/architectural blog that discusses historic buildings in Manhattan. it is written by Tom Miller, a transplant from Dayton, Ohio.

Forgotten New York is a blog by Kevin Walsh that calls attention to the artifacts of a disappearing or long-gone New York.


My "Tiles in New York" blog will be on vacation this summer. It will resume in September with an expanded focus. Besides architectural ceramics, the blog will post articles about architectural glass and other architectural ornamentation. Over the summer we will be continuing our research for a monograph/catalogue raisonné about the stained glass artist Robert Pinart. My September posting will be an introduction to the architectural glass art of Robert Pinart.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Socialist and Labor Architecture and Iconography in New York City

(Color photos courtesy of Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted)

Socialist and Labor Architecture and Iconography in New York City

I have always been interested in the ways architects and building owners decorated the facades of their buildings, and you can see this in the posts I’ve written on my two blogs. I have even taken hundreds of photos of architectural ornamentation in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where I live, and hope to publish them on the internet in book form one of these days. Due to my political leanings, I am also interested in socialist and labor iconography on building facades, as well as historic labor- and socialist-oriented buildings, residences and monuments. This article will touch on both.

The emblem of the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen on an interior wall of the auditorium at 20 West 44th Street, Manhattan.

In the last half of the nineteenth century through the end of World War II, German, Eastern European and Mediterranean immigrants brought their pro-labor and pro-socialist views and organizations to the United States. In New York City these organizations were especially strong, and helped to mitigate the exploitation of these workers and their families, as well as help pursue a progressive political and social agenda in the city and country as a whole. Some of their buildings also expressed these views.

The Italian Labor Center

231 East 14th Street, Manhattan

One example of labor iconography is the former Italian Labor Center, 231 East 14th Street, Manhattan. "Built in 1919, when this corner of the East Village was a mini Little Italy, it also served as the [the headquarters of Cloakmakers Local 48 ILGWU (Unione dei Cloakmakers Italiani)]. The old sign is still carved on the facade and is flanked by two interesting bas reliefs that seem to oppose each other. 

"The carving on the right depicts a man (a worker, with a shovel), woman, and baby seemingly content.

"On the left, however, the woman is suckling a snake, her hair electrified and her face contorted in pain. Her child is scrambling from her in terror. Her husband is in the background, hard at work digging or plowing, oblivious to the turmoil.* 'The carvings are probably the work of Onorio Ruotolo**, poet and sculptor, whose works in that period dealt with the theme of workers and their resistance to exploitation,' states The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism [written by Philip V. Cannistraro and Gerald Meyer].” (  In my view the panel on the left signifies exploitation and terrorization of the workers by the capitalist snake, and the scene on the right the calmness and peace brought about after the defeat of capitalism through the collective action of the unions.

The Italian Labor Center was a hub of anti-fascist organizing beginning in 1923 when the Center hosted an anti-fascist conference organized by the Italian Chamber of Labor. (“Italians Here To Launch Drive On Fascisti April 2”, The New York Call, March 25, 1923, p. 9;  Architects John Caggiano, Matthew Del Gaudio and Anthony Lombardi employed innovative design and materials. The building later housed the Ukrainian Center for Social Research. (

*[Another interpretation is on p. 52 of the "14th Street and Union Square Preservation Plan": “A terra cotta set of panels above the center bay on the second story reads, 'ITALIAN LABOR CENTER.' Strikingly, this center panel is flanked by two decorative terra cotta bas reliefs which depict scenes of Italian, family, and labor-related significance. The eastern panel clearly shows a content family of working father, mother, and baby, the latter being cradled by his parents. The father holds a shovel in his left hand. The western panel illustrates the naked Roman goddess Minerva, patroness of craftspeople, next to a naked male child in the foreground before a shirtless laborer. The top of this central arch is capped by a band of wave scroll ornamentation.”]

**[“A sculptor and poet, Onorio Ruotolo (1888–1966) was born in Cervinara, Italy. He studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Naples and emigrated to the United States in 1908. The struggle and poverty he observed in New York City engendered in him a concern for society, which he expressed in cartoons, poetry, and sculpture. During World War I, he produced a number of sculptures showing the horrors of war. In 1914, he and Arturo Giovannitti became co-directors of Il Fuoco, a magazine of art and politics. After an ideological split, Ruotolo began Minosse, a socio-literary publication. In 1923 Ruotolo founded the Leonardo da Vinci Art School on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The school was created to provide arts education for New York's immigrant community, and it remained in operation for almost twenty years. In 1924 Isamu Noguchi took his first sculpture class at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School, and Noguchi began his artistic career with the academic sculpture that he created as Ruotolo's protégé.” (]

The Labor Temple

"242 West 14th Street at Second Avenue in Manhattan, New York City, was built in 1924 for the Labor Temple, "New York's most radical church". The Temple got a chapel, an auditorium, and a gymnasium, and the developers kept control of the commercial rental of the remainder of the building, which was designed by Emery Roth. The Labor Temple disbanded in 1957." ( Beyond My Ken (Own work) [GFDL (

On the same block as the Italian Labor Center is a building that was built as the New York City Labor Temple. “In April 1910, a plan to start "a center of aggressive religious work among the working-men of New York City, under the name of Labor Temple" was read in the meeting of the Home Missions Committee of the Presbytery of New York. The Reverend Charles Stelzle of the Board of Home Missions had drawn up the plan, hoping to establish a common ground where working men and churchmen could meet as equals, to show working men the interest the church felt in their welfare, and to foster mutual understanding and cooperation between labor and the Church. Stelzle's idea was to use an empty church at the corner of 14th Street and Second Avenue, to gather there all workers and churchmen who wished to meet, and to hold open fora, lecture series and classes dealing with social issues. Though care would be taken to express the Christian viewpoint, Stelzle wanted Labor Temple to be a place in which all ideas could be heard. The Presbytery of New York approved the plan, and Stelzle was appointed the director of Labor Temple.” (

“The Labor Temple was a church but also a meeting space, union hiring hall, and school. Stelzle, a proponent of the social gospel, promoted the establishment of similar Labor Temples nationwide (although many of them were secular in nature). For years, the New York City Labor Temple was the center of the city's union life. But most local Labor Temple movements did not survive the 1930s.” (


Only the one word is needed to evoke the horror of that day.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory caught fire on March 25, 1911. (“The factory fire resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. It was also the second deadliest disaster in New York City – after the burning of the General Slocum on June 15, 1904 – until the destruction of the World Trade Center 90 years later. 

“The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three... . Because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits--a common practice at the time to prevent pilferage and unauthorized breaks--many of the workers who could not escape the burning building jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors to the streets below. 

“The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers. The women working for 14 cents an hour who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25 of 1911 created a vast movement for change, which in the United States culminated in the right to organize, improved fire safety and working conditions, the Fair Labor Standards Act, minimum wage laws, the elimination of sweat shops, and more.

Asch/Brown Building, site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. (2007 photo by Dmadeo:

“The factory was located in the Asch Building, at 23–29 Washington Place, now known as the Brown Building, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark.” (  The building has no distinguishing labor or socialist iconography, but there are monuments to the memory of the victims in local cemeteries. “A monument to six victims of the fire who were unidentified until recently was erected at the Cemetery of the Evergreens, which straddles the Brooklyn-Queens border.” ( memorial can be found in the Calvary Cemetery in Queens, and a third in the  Workman’s Circle section of Mount Zion Cemetery in Queens.

“The site, erected in 1911, includes the original memorial for 14 of the 146 victims, their names inscribed on individual plaques. The site has since been expanded to memorialize all the victims of the horrible tragedy that left 146 workers dead.” (

Red Square Apartments

Someone on the Lower East Side--more specifically at 250 East Houston Street, The Red Square Apartments--brought home an unused statue of Vladimir Illyich Lenin from the ex-Soviet Union, and installed it on the roof of the building. From the ground, it looks like Lenin exhorting the workers at the Finland Station!

“The enemies of the workers are the capitalists of all countries. ...The capitalists strive to sow and foment hatred between workers of different faiths, different nations and different races.” (V.I. Lenin)

Actually, former NYU professor Michael Rosen developed the property that his wife’s grandfather had bought at city auction in 1961. The architects (1989-91) were Schuman, Lichtenstein, Claman & Efron. (Joyce Mendelsohn, The Lower East Side Remembered and Revisited, Columbia University Press, 2009, p. 225) “Michael Rosen, a former professor of radical sociology at NYU who, after finishing work on Red Square, concentrated on developing housing for battered women and AIDS sufferers.

“The 18-foot tall statue was a Soviet-commissioned heroic sculpture by Yuri Gerasimov, but when the USSR collapsed, the statue was never officially unveiled. Rosen’s co-developer, Michael Shaoul, found it in a dacha outside Moscow, and it has been part of the building since 1994 when it was purchased from Gerasimov. The [‘crazy’] clock[, also on the top of the building], by designer Tibor Kalman, was based on an “Askew” watch featured in a Museum of Modern Art collection, and in fact the design can still be purchased there.” ( Michael Rosen later corrected this story about how he got the Lenin statue: “The statue of Lenin was found by a partnership of 3 guys named Walker, Ursitti and McGinnis (WUM). They had an art business in NYC and the USSR... . They asked me to invest with them in a painting they said was worth quite a bit, and as a part of the deal they located a monumental Lenin statue because I wanted one for the roof of Red Square, and also a much smaller bronze statue of a grandfatherly Lenin sitting on a park bench. No one from New York went to a dacha except the WUM guys.”)

Giuseppe Garibaldi

Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) was a radical Italian nationalist who, “after fighting in South American wars of liberation, using what today would be called guerrilla tactics, he organized and led insurgencies leading to conquests of Sicily and Naples which ultimately produced the unification of Italy in 1860. Abraham Lincoln offered Garibaldi a command in the Civil War, but Garibaldi asked for the post of commander-in-chief [and that slavery be abolished, both of] which Lincoln was unwilling to consent. Garibaldi resided in this house in Rosebank, on Staten Island’s Tompkins Avenue [420 Tompkins Avenue]...from 1851-53 with his friend, Antonio Meucci, who invented the telephone before Alexander Graham Bell received his own patent for it.

There is nothing architectural that would point to this house as being related to socialist or labor iconography. It was just the home of Garibaldi.

When Garibaldi died in 1882, a committee formed to commemorate the hero's stay on these shores. In 1884, Meucci was on hand when a plaque was placed over the front door of the house. After Meucci's death the house was turned over to the Italian Community to be preserved as a memorial to Garibaldi. (

Workers' Housing

“There was a time, in the first half of the last century, when secular Jews, mostly from Eastern European immigrant families, lived in service to a set of political ideals... . They saw their lives in terms of collective consciousness, and although that consciousness took different forms – some were Communists, some Socialists, some primarily Labor-Zionists – they lived in a way that few Americans do today. They thought of life in collective terms, more family of man than family of blood. Our lives, they believed, were closely tied together, and we should help each other through life’s struggles.” Four socialist and labor-oriented housing projects were founded in the Bronx as experiments in cooperative housing: the Communist Coops, the United Workers Cooperative Colony, a housing complex [begun in 1925-26 and completed in 1927-29] and populated by American Communists and their sympathizers; the Farband Houses, run by a Labor Zionist group; the Sholom Aleichem Houses, built by Yiddish-speaking socialists; and the Amalgamated Houses, founded by the garment workers’ union. 

The United Workers’ Cooperative Apartments in the Bronx

United Workers Co-op Colony Apartments/the Coops, 2700 Bronx Park East. (WPA Federal Writers Project: wpa_0516, 1937;…OUNITMAY~3~3,RECORDSPHOTOUNITARC~25~25&mi=11&printerFriendly=1)

“The Bronx housing coops sprang from the desire of the Jewish garment workers in the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union for fresh air and gardens and better places to live than their crowded difficult conditions on the Lower East Side. The city helped, opening up public transportation into the Bronx, where the land was cheaper and the air was cleaner.”

Also, "[the] 1926 New York State Limited Dividend Housing Companies Law facilitated co-op development by giving tax abatements to housing developers that agreed to limit their profits to 6 percent and target low-income tenants." (Joshua B. Freeman, Working-Class New York: Life and Labor Since World War II, The New York Press, New York, NY, 2001, p. 110)

The Coops were constructed in Tudor Revival style and the architects were Springsteen & Goldhammer and Herman Jessor.

Lintel decoration over one of the doorways at The Coops.

The Coops residents were activists in many ways: “From the Coops, the residents set out to live their ideals. No one could be evicted if they couldn’t pay the rent. Consequently, the Depression put a strain on the Coops’ finances, and in 1933, it headed to bankruptcy, unable to pay its mortgage. However, responding to popular unrest, 24 states passed laws against mortgage foreclosures, including New York. It was in this political climate that the leaders of the Coops were able to negotiate a stay against foreclosure and remain the masters of their castle. Residents of the neighborhood surrounding the Coops, however, were not so lucky. So, when families in the neighborhood were faced with eviction, people from the Coops stepped in. ...The Coops were also at the forefront of breaking racial barriers. Coops residents organized to save the Scottsboro Boys... . And in the early ’30s, the Communist Party directed the Coops’ management to invite African-American families to move in. As a result, it became one of the first integrated housing complexes in the nation–and home to some of the only black kids in America to speak Yiddish.” (Joel Bleifuss, “Building Utopia”, In These Times;

The Sholem Aleichem Houses

The second large-scale socialist housing project was the Sholem Aleichem Houses (the Yiddish Cooperative Heimgesellschaft), completed in 1927 also by Springsteen & Goldhammer for 229 families on the site overlooking the Jerome Park Reservoir at 3451 Giles Place,  68 West 228th Street and Cannon Place. The origins of the Sholem Aleichem membership focused on the Workman’s Circle where "Yiddish culture trumped all other concerns." Politics, however, were also very important and brought a measure of discord. "...The cooperators had to create two Jewish schools, one for the socialists and one for the communists." (Matt A. V. Chaban, "At Beauty Queen's Former Home, Shades of a Bronx Utopia", The New York Times, January 13, 2015, p. A25) 

“Sholem Aleichem was the pen name of famed Ukrainian Yiddish writer Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich, whose works include Tevye the Milkman, on which Fiddler on the Roof is based. Sholem Aleichem Houses was devoted to its cultural mission, and included [three] artists’ studios, an auditorium for lectures and performances and cafeterias for functions. The complex, which has survived largely intact over the years, is made up of 15 five-story buildings comprising 229 apartments. Its neo-Tudor style was apparently unrelated to the values of the cooperative, but was a popular choice for residential architecture at the time. One of its most distinctive characteristics is the presence of beautifully landscaped inner garden courtyards.” ( Also, no two apartments were alike. The original cooperators were allowed to design their own spaces. ((Matt A. V. Chaban, op. cit.)

The Farband Houses

About the same time the Jewish National Workers Alliance--JNWA (Natsionaler Yidisher Arbeter Farband)--began planning the Farband Houses, two buildings for 127 families on Williamsbridge Road in the Bronx [at 2922 Barnes Avenue]. It was designed by the architects Meisner and Uffner and was completed in 1928. The JNWA was founded as a fraternal organization, like the Workmans Circle, but it was Zionist in orientation and became the backbone of Labor Zionism in the United States. 

The Farband Houses, 2014.

The Amalgamated Clothing Workers Houses

“Springsteen & Goldhammer also designed the Amalgamated Clothing Workers housing in 1927 on the edge of Van Cortlandt Park for 308 families. This was the largest of the labor/socialist cooperative projects with 700 families in 1931. (Richard Plunz, A History of Housing in New York City, Columbia University Press, New York, NY, 1990, pp. 151-153)  

(Photo from

“Today, the 1,500-apartment Amalgamated Houses and two of the four buildings of the smaller Farband development remain limited dividend co-ops, meaning they can't be sold for a profit. ...The original Amalgamated co-operators put up $500 a room for their homes. By 1950, the purchase price had risen to $650 per room. Today's price is $3,000 per room--an increase that lags behind inflation. If they leave, residents must sell their shares back to the co-op, which then selects new purchasers from a waiting list. Carrying charges--the co-op equivalent of monthly rent--average $158 per room. [...The] co-op has declared itself a naturally occurring retirement community to better serve its long-time residents.” (Robert Neuwirt, “Radical Co-ops in the Roaring”, City Limits;

In 2004 the Museum of the City of New York mounted an exhibit, “Radicals in the Bronx”, which focused on these four developments. Sarah Henry, the museum’s deputy director for programs and curator of the exhibit, commented that “’The founders of the co-ops saw themselves as the first step in the transformation to a better world... . They believed that the physical circumstances under which people live encourage collective action and identity, so these were intended to be more than affordable housing. Architecturally they were not stylistically radical but were much like what was being built for wealthier people in Bronxville... . They were built around courtyards and were near parks. Light and cross-ventilation were very important to people coming from tenements.’" (Nadine Brozan, “A Historical Look Back At Working-Class Housing”, The New York Times;

Many of these same groups founded summer camps for children and adults in the surrounding rural areas of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Two of the more famous of these were Camp Kinderland and Camp Unity.

“Camp Kinderland was founded on Sylvan Lake in Hopewell Junction, NY in 1923 by members of the Workmen’s Circle who worked in the organization’s New York City schools. The camp’s founders sought to create a summer youth camp that would not only provide a recreational escape for the children of working people from the tenements of New York City, but also one whose culture would encourage and foster a commitment to socially progressive activism and the embracing of a rich Jewish secular tradition. The camp's founders, including some activists in the Communist Party, were associated with the left wing of the Workermen's Circle. From 1930 the Camp operated under the auspices of a branch of the International Workers order. In the 1950s, under the pressure of New York State "anti-subversive" investigations, it was incorporated independently.” (

“[Camp] Unity[, founded in 1927, which]...called itself the 'first proletarian summer colony,' [and which...] would become the first interracial adult camp in the United States, purchased a permanent site in Wingdale, New York. In the late 1930's, returning Spanish Civil War veterans were given jobs and the opportunity for [physical] rehabilitation at Unity. During World War II, local residents joined with campers and staff to raise funds for the war effort. A vibrant cultural program attracted guests from more traditional resorts. Cold War harassment--including a 1955 investigation to uncover 'Communists' use of summer camps to indoctrinate and disaffect American youth...'-- and internal disputes over camp policy on such issues as 'white chauvinism' –- with camp management often taking a position different from that of the Communist Party -- resulted in declining attendance.” (

The National Maritime Union Buildings

In the summer of 1966, towards the end of a six-week strike of caseworkers in the New York City Department of Welfare, Joseph Curran of the National Maritime Union, who had been mediating between my union and the City, invited us to hold a membership meeting in his fairly-new NMU building on Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets. The building evoked a massive ship, steady and rock-solid strong.

The ex-National Maritime Union building in 2014.

“New Orleans-based architect Albert C. Ledner designed three buildings for the National Maritime Union of America in the 1960s, all white buildings that prominently featured portholes as an architectural feature. The first, in 1964, was the union's headquarters building at Seventh Avenue between 12th Street and 13th Street, which became part of the now-closed St. Vincent's Medical Center; the second was the building at 346 West 17th Street, which runs through to 16th Street, which the union used as an annex to their headquarters; and finally the ‘pizza box’ building which became the Maritime Hotel, whose primary facade faces Ninth Avenue.” ( 

The other two NMU buildings on Ninth Avenue and West 16th Street. The "pizza box", and the Maritime Hotel just behind it.

The National Maritime Union building in Greenwich Village was eccentric-looking. “Mr. Ledner fancifully evoked seafaring themes in his commission for the National Maritime Union. The portholes are well known. Other nice touches include a rooftop elevator bulkhead reminiscent of a steamship’s smokestack. Joseph Curran, the union president, whose luxurious office occupied the ship’s bridge on the sixth-floor penthouse, described the building as ‘the box in which the Guggenheim Museum came.’

“Through the use of deep steel girders cantilevered from a thick concrete wall near the rear of the building, Mr. Ledner was able to convey the impression that the upper floors were floating above two circular hiring halls at ground level. In these halls, clad in glass block, about 1,000 seamen were assigned weekly to merchant ships sailing from New York. In 1973, the diminished union sold its headquarters to St. Vincent’s, which needed space.” The building became the O’Toole Building/Medical Center and was saved from being razed when St. Vincent’s closed. In 2011 the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved plans for the building to be reopened as an emergency care center, and it will be restored to its original concrete facade.

“Writing about the building in March 1964, Ada Louise Huxtable, who was then the architecture critic of The New York Times, noted that the union could have constructed a ‘cheap, dull, routine box’ or chosen something ‘vulgar and ponderous’ in marble.
‘It decided, instead, to go for architecture,’ she wrote. ‘Whatever reservations may be held, New York needs more of those decisions.’" (David W. Dunlap, “A Shiplike Building Gets Another New Life”;

The Jewish Daily Forward Building

One of the most influential socialist newspapers for Jewish immigrants in New York was the Forward. "Launched as a Yiddish-language daily newspaper on April 22, 1897, the Forward entered the din of New York's immigrant press as a defender of trade unionism and moderate, democratic socialism. […U]nder the leadership of its founding editor, ...Abraham Cahan, the Forward came to be known as the voice of the Jewish immigrant and the conscience of the ghetto. It fought for social justice, helped generations of immigrants to enter American life, broke some of the most significant news stories of the century, and was among the nation's most eloquent defenders of democracy and Jewish rights.

"By the early 1930s the Forward had become one of America's premier metropolitan dailies, with a nationwide circulation topping 275,000 and influence that reached around the world and into the Oval Office. Thousands more listened regularly to the Forward's Yiddish-language radio station, WEVD… . The newspaper's editorial staff included, at one time or another, nearly every major luminary in the then-thriving world of Yiddish literature, from the beloved "poet of the sweatshops," Morris Rosenfeld, to the future Nobel laureates Isaac Bashevis Singer and Elie Wiesel." (  

The Forward Building, 173-175 East Broadway, Manhattan. (Photo taken by Jim.henderson is in the public domain;

“Designed by George Boehm, the midblock Forward Building still towers over the three- to five-story houses and tenements in the area. ...The cream-and-tan exterior has the same light tones and delicate terra cotta that Boehm used a few years later on the Chalif Dancing School, still standing at 163 West 57th Street. Above the second floor of The Forward Building, a series of relief busts depict four famous socialists, including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Above them two oversize reclining figures in classical dress against a blue background flank a torch, an image that runs through the building's decoration.” (Christopher Gray, “Streetscapes/The Jewish Daily Forward Building, 175 East Broadway; A Capitalist Venture With a Socialist Base”, The New York Times, July 19, 1998;  

The four socialist medalions above the entrance.

“Completed in 1912[, it was in] a prime location, across the street from Seward Park. The building was embellished with marble columns and panels and stained glass windows. The facade features carved bas relief portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, (who co-authored, with Marx, The Communist Manifesto) and Ferdinand Lassalle, founder of the first mass German labor party. A fourth relief portrays a person whose identity has not been clearly established, and has been identified as Wilhelm Liebknecht,[a German social democrat and one of the principal founders of the German Social Democratic Party,] Karl Liebknecht,[a German socialist and a co-founder with Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist League and the Communist Party of Germany] or August Bebel[, a German socialist politician, writer, and orator, who is best remembered as one of the founders of the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany (SDAP)].” (

Rockefeller Center

While Marx and Engels' visages still survive to decorate a New York City building, what about Vladimir Ilych Lenin?

”Man at the Crossroads was a fresco by Diego River a in the Rockefeller Center, New York. The painting was controversial because it included an image of Lenin and a Soviet Russian May Day parade. ...Nelson Rockefeller ordered its destruction before it was completed. Only black-and-white photographs exist of the original incomplete mural, taken when Rivera was forced to stop work on it. Using the photographs, Rivera repainted the composition [at the Palacio de Bellas Artes] in Mexico under the variant title Man, Controller of the Universe. ...The new version included a portrait of Leon Trotsky alongside Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels at the right, and others, including Charles Darwin, at the left and Nelson Rockefeller's father, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong teetotaler, seen drinking in a nightclub with a woman; above their heads is a dish of syphilis bacteria.” (; photo courtesy of Wolfgang Sauber)

You wouldn’t think that Rockefeller Center would contain--or even allow--Socialist iconography to grace its walls, and you would be correct. It no longer does. However, in the 1930s, Marxist muralist Diego Rivera was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller to paint a fresco mural in the newly built Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller Center contained many architectural works of art, some of them in the style of Socialist Realism, but Diego Rivera went too far for Nelson!

“Rivera's composition depicted many aspects of contemporary social and scientific culture. In the center, a workman was depicted controlling machinery. Before him, a giant fist emerged holding an orb depicting the recombination of atoms and dividing cells in acts of chemical and biological generation. From the central figure four propeller-like shapes stretched to the corner of the composition, depicting arcs of light created by giant lenses anchoring the left and right edges of the space. Rivera described these as ‘elongated ellipses’. Within these, cosmological and biological forces such as exploding suns and cell-forms were depicted. These represented the discoveries made possible by the telescope and the microscope. Between and beyond the arcs were scenes of modern social life. Wealthy society women are seen playing cards and smoking at the left. Opposite, on the right, Lenin is seen holding hands with a multi-racial group of workers. Soldiers and war machinery occupied the top left above the society women, and a Russian May Day rally with red flags was seen at the right, above Lenin. For Rivera, this represented contrasting social visions: the ‘debauched rich’ watched by the unemployed while war rages; and a socialist utopia ushered in by Lenin.” (

Sir Frank Brangwyn and José María Sert were commissioned to work alongside Rivera and supplement his lobby mural with murals of their own in the North and South hallways. After the destruction of Rivera's mural on Rockefeller’s orders in 1934, Sert, who detested Rivera, "had the opportunity to paint on arguably the most important wall in New York, if not America. Sert's 1,000 square-foot painting, American Progress, which replaced Rivera's fresco, is an allegorical scene of mankind building America." (Glenn 
Palmer-Smith, Murals of New York City, Rizzoli, New York, NY, 2013, p. 71)

Part of Jose Maria Sert's mural in Rockefeller Center.
In my opinion, there is no comparison. I prefer the original by Diego Rivera.

The Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau

One person in New York City who did more to help working class women to obtain knowledge of family planning, birth control and safe sexual practices was the feminist and socialist Margaret Sanger (1879-1966).

“In 1911, after a fire destroyed their home in Hastings-on-Hudson, the Sangers abandoned the suburbs for a new life in New York
City. Margaret Sanger worked as a visiting nurse in the slums of the East Side, while her husband worked as an architect and a painter. Already imbued with William Sanger's leftist politics, Margaret Sanger also threw herself into the radical politics and modernist values of pre-World War I Greenwich Village bohemia, where she joined the Women's Committee of the New York Socialist party. She took part in the labor actions of the Industrial Workers of the World, including the notable 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike and the 1913 Paterson Silk Strike and she became involved with local intellectuals, artists, socialists, and social activists including John Reed, Upton Sinclair, Mabel Dodge, and Emma Goldman. Her political interests, emerging feminism and nursing experience led to her 1912 column on sexual education entitled ‘What Every Mother Should Know’ and ‘What Every Girl Should Know’ for the socialist magazine the New York Call.” ( 

17 West 16th Street (right), part of a row of nine Greek revival houses built c.1846 which have curving front bays, a Manhattan rarity. Each house was individually designated a NYC landmark in 1990. (Photo by “Beyond My Ken”;

“Sanger was horrified by the infant mortality rate she witnessed [as a nurse on the Lower East Side of Manhattan] and in 1912 abandoned her career to advocate for birth control. She wrote and published a series of articles on sexually-transmitted diseases and contraception. The articles were considered obscene by the United States Government and were, therefore, illegal to mail under the restraints of the Comstock Act. Margaret Sanger fled the country to avoid prosecution in 1914. The uproar from women’s groups made the Sanger case an embarrassment for the government. All charges were eventually dropped and in 1915 she returned to New York to continue her campaign. In 1923 she opened the first physician-staffed clinic in the country for ‘the medically supervised study of contraceptive techniques.’ Seven years later the clinic had outgrown its space and Margaret Sanger’s husband, oil industrialist J. Noah H. Slee, purchased the house at 17 West 16th Street for the clinic's use. The Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau moved into the house in 1930, expanding its services.” (“The 1847 ‘Margaret Sanger Clinic’ House - 17 West 16th Street”, Daytonian in Manhattan;  And now, ninety-two years later, political and religious ideologues are causing the closing of women's health clinics across the country. (One step forward, two steps back--an American phenomenon!)

The "Occupy" Movement and Liberty Park

Some photos from a ray of hope in a bleak economic and political landscape.

The free library.

My winning amateur entry in an "Occupy" photo competition.

Back to the USSR 

There are many more labor and socialist-related buildings and iconography throughout New York City not mentioned here, such as Trotsky's home in the Bronx and the Statue of Liberty engraved with the socialist, Emma Lazarus', poem, The New Colossus
 (another "one step forward,…" phenomenon in the United States); the short-lived bust commemorating the incredible whistleblower, Edward Snowden, in Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park and the newly rediscovered labor mural by Max Spivak at 111 West 40th Street, Manhattan, but I couldn't include everything. 

However, I did want to end this survey on a whimsical note. There are many ex-Soviet immigrants in the Coney Island and Brighton Beach areas of Brooklyn, and there are many excellent restaurants serving traditional foods of the ex-Soviet republics. Below is one such restaurant facade which combines the Beatles with Soviet iconography.

I never had the chance to eat at this restaurant, though, as the windows were papered over. The restaurant was being "renovated" (read closed) when these photos were taken, and the signs disappeared shortly thereafter.

Update: Renaissance Casino and Ballroom Complex Demolished

As reported in the New York Times, another historic site, the Renaissance Casino and Ballroom Complex on 137th Street and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. in Manhattan, was demolished in April by a development company. These were the only known buildings existing in this area decorated with rare Tunisian Tile Company tiles made by the Chemla family in Tunisia. The tiles were not saved, either.