The Story Behind the Neighborhood’s Most Charming ‘Grotesques’

Look up as you pass a building on 110th Street and you’ll see some of the most charming decorative architecture in the entire neighborhood. The Brittania at 527 West 110th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam has several grotesques (like gargoyles but without water spouts) brimming with humor and life.

The sculptures, photographed by Stephen Harmon, show the figures eating soup, reading. In one, a cook surreptitiously tastes the broth.

The building was designed in 1909 by an architecture firm called Waid & Willauer hired by J. Charles Weschler, according to Christopher Gray in the Times. The nine-story building looked like an “old English house,” much homier than some of the cookie-cutter apartment buildings going up at the time. The middle courtyard was wider than usual, so that neighbors couldn’t hear each other’s business.

One of the designers, Arthur Willauer, wrote an apologia for his creation in a 1909 issue of The American Architect. He proclaimed, “Let us give to the crowded thousands some portion of that joy that we have known abroad and from the real homes in our own country — what finer work could the members of our profession do than this!”

You can see some of the original floor plains for the building here.

HISTORY, REAL ESTATE | 7 comments | permalink
    1. Sarah says:

      I like this kind of microstudy of the neighborhood!

    2. Kathleen says:

      I agree. A nice little piece of UWS trivia. One of my favorite things about the city is the architecture.

    3. Those are some of my favorites. Inspired by these and some on many other great buildings in NYC and Europe, I have sculpted many grotesques on my building on the corner of West 83rd St. & Broadway.

    4. ScooterStan says:

      You need NOT trek up to 110th just to see some nice decorative stone sculptures; there are some great ones below W. 79th. Here are just 3:

      1. Look above the entrance to The Apthorp: (Bdway below W. 79th);
      2. Look at the W. 71st entrance to The Dorilton plus its Bdwy facade;
      3. AND, of course, the W.73rd and W.74th entrances to The Ansonia…in fact, that entire gorgeous “wedding-cake” of a building is a unique piece of art work.

      These were just 3…but, as you walk about the UWS, how’s about NOT staring at your iPhone and instead look up to see some architectural treasures.

      • Michael Hobson says:

        You will find similar styled tudor like revival architectonic curios adorning a residential building on N side 71st St WEA/B’way. Also the san remo buildings both sport greek revival gargantuan choragic monument of lysicrates ‘memorials’ atop both towers. Amazing minds’ visions of art in architecture are everywhere.

    5. peter says:

      nicely photographed ! good eye for details.