By Christian Rowe
For the last couple of days I have been exploring and studying the rowhouses and building ornaments on the Upper West Side. Row houses and apartment buildings were made mainly to house people in the middle class. Architects used materials like brownstone, limestone, brick and sometimes terracotta to construct these houses. They also used detailed designs of faces, plants and animals carved into the buildings’ facades (called ornaments) to decorate them. Most of the buildings I visited were constructed around the 1880s.
Some of the ornaments were not in the best condition and needed restoration work while others were in great condition.
The left ornaments are broken, the right ones are in one piece.
 The first house I saw at 200 West 98th Street had Greek-looking faces on the facade of the building. The faces along the left side of the rowhouse were broken and need to be restored but the faces on the right side were in one piece and just in need of a cleaning. Another ornament I saw at 46 West 90th Street really stood out to me. The designs on that building are little birds on a branch eating berries off a tree. I found this interesting because walking through Central Park I saw a similar bird eating berries the same way. I wonder if the architect drew inspiration from Central Park because the scene and the design looked very similar.
Inspired by nature

A detailed Bucranium (Latin for “Bull’s Skull”)

 The most unique design I saw on my journey was the Cliff Dwelling. This apartment building features ornaments of cow skulls and Aztec masks. This building gives me a sort of Mexican vibe. Also the building is in a triangular cut. The architects apparently used a Pueblo Deco style of architecture.

Aztec mask

Aztec mask protected by wild cats

 In an old LANDMARK WEST! newsletter published in 1996, architectural historian Kathleen Randall makes a very good point on the inspiration for these designs on the buildings. After reading her article in the newsletter I came to the understanding that she feels the faces on many of the ornaments reflect the anxiety of the decades following the Civil War. I agree with Ms. Randall because during this time there was sort of a gloomy mood going around because of all the corruption going on in the city. This journey was really a learning experience for me to find out more history about one specific building type in this great and lovely neighborhood -the Upper West Side.
Why so serious?

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