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The Gargoyle Building

Omigod - the NYTimes has an article all about the apt. building I lived in after college, the one where I wrote Swordspoint (and lots of Bordertown stories)...!

In college, we used to walk past "the gargoyle building" on our way to V&T's Pizza around the corner, and I would always pause in front of it, look up, sigh, and say, "I want to live there some day."

Times were different then. Nobody well-heeled wanted to live on the Upper West Side, because it was full of sprawling old apartments that had not been kept up, and the streets were full of petty criminals. Musicians lived there, because the walls of the old buildings were thick, and it was near Lincoln Center. Academics lived there, because there was plenty of room for books, and near the university. Immigrants lived there, from big Puerto Rican families in tiny walkups, to widows of Viennese intellectuals who'd come in 1939, to Chinese fleeing Cuba who had restaurants where you could get big plates of spicy picadillo and squid-in-ink sauce and cafe con leche and flan. When I walked to the subway, young men leaning on the corners would hiss, "Hey, chica! Chica!" Some blocks were just not safe, and on the rest, you always kept your wits about you and an eye out for who was nearby. When I graduated from Barnard, I bunked in my Uncle Ron's livingroom for a few weeks, job- and apartment-hunting. Ron, recently divorced, had a 1-BR on W. 95th/Riverside, across the street from some SRO's (Single-Room Occupancy - essentially, flophouses with single rooms that rented by the week to the recently-released mental patients the city decided it didn't have room for, and various other down-and-outers - it was summer, and they spent evenings out on the building's stoops to cool down . . . it was summer, and we kept the windows open, and I'll never forget the night I was awakened around 3 a.m. by a huge booming voice shouting musically from the street: "I . . . am the Lord. . . Your. . . God! And I am very annnnngry with you, my children!" ) When I was in college, my uncle used to walk me back up to Barnard (114th) from there if I visited late. As we walked by the women in short skirts leaning against the drugstore on the corner of 107th he'd nudge me and murmur, "Hey, Ellen! What do you think she does for a living?" His old building has recently become a luxury co-op. And the drugstore now sells high-end sneakers or something. We all lived there because it was cheap.

A friend & I called the gargoyle building's agent, and were shown a 2-bedroom on the back, but the apt's only shower/bath could only be reached through one of the bedrooms, and after some agonizing, we declined and took a tiny walkup on W. 81st off Broadway, right down the street from the old Sesame Street studios, I'm told. At the other end of W. 81st was the Museum of Natural History, but I remember that the 2 blocks between were pretty dicey. What really did us in, though, was the noisy neighbors across the airshaft off her bedroom, and the noisier all-night salsa parties on the stoop of the apt across from mine. In August, in the spirit of "Why not?" we tried the gargoyle building again, and on Sept. 1 moved into a swooping 2-BR on the front courtyard, with an octagonal wood-paneled diningroom (with ceiling beams radiating out from a central carving) plus a little maid's room off the kitchen, where we promptly installed a 3rd roommate, a grad student, to share the $410 rent. (Oh, lordy, when I think of the 2-BR on West End with views of the Hudson that we decided we couldn't afford at $750....! But by then I was working as an editorial assistant at Ace Books, where the starting salary was just under $8,000/year. Loaves of sliced bread, though, sometimes went on sale at 4/$1.) We lived on the 5th floor, left: in the pictures, you can see my corner bedroom (1 window on street, 3-sided one on the courtyard) above the tree.

And there I stayed, with a revolving panoply of roommates (including a boa constrictor and t_windling, though not at the same time), until Gentrification hit even 110th Street, the building went condo, the last remaining roommate & I borrowed the money from our parents to buy at an insider price and then, both having left NYC 2 years later, sold at twice the price - funding my small house in Boston.

And now I'm back in NYC. I still love the pizza at V&T's. And, if you visit me, I'll probably make you go there, and walk my old neighborhood, and stop and look at "my building."

* * *
ADDED
Here are more great photos of the gargoyles, the building - and a sort-of credible "explanation" that they're telling the story of Chicken Soup!(?) [and you can see my old kitchen/diningroom/maid's room windows on the left half of the front...]

Comments

( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
justinhowe
Jan. 18th, 2009 09:30 pm (UTC)
Oh wow. What a great building.
(Deleted comment)
ellen_kushner
Jan. 18th, 2009 09:47 pm (UTC)
Re: gargoyles
Yep - I remember when Reagan came in, men started wearing neckties again & I was disgusted & disappointed - it had been looking like a romantic return to the collarless shirt 'til then.... The Republicans have so very, very much to answer for!

I wish they knew who'd carved those gargoyles. Some Italian immigrant stone mason, I'm guessing, like the guys who did Yale. But they do look like people someone knew, don't they?
meener
Jan. 18th, 2009 09:42 pm (UTC)
oh wow! i pass by those gargoyles every time i'm headed down to the cottage or the hungarian. now whenever i pass by the building, i'll think of you. :)
ellen_kushner
Jan. 18th, 2009 09:45 pm (UTC)
Awww..... Someday I'll have to organize a Guided Tour - meet at V&T's! I think where the Cottage is now (well, on that corner) used to be the Green Tree Hungarian Restaurant, where we all went for filling meals of goulash & chicken paprikash cooked by the Mom, while the son? cousin? with a diamond stud in his ear chided us if we didn't clean our plates....
girasole
Jan. 18th, 2009 11:50 pm (UTC)
I still love V&T's, and don't get there nearly as often as I'd like. I know it from my days at graduate school (the late lamented library school at Columbia). I loved the Green Tree, too, my first introduction to that cuisine. Wow, that was forty years ago.
ellen_kushner
Jan. 19th, 2009 12:39 am (UTC)
. . .but who's counting?

Friends in the Col. Drama Dept. used to call it "The Blue Goose" which had something to do with being Viennese and decadent. Nick, and amazing mimic, can still do the voice of the waiter. It's uncanny.

Would you like to meet at V&T's sometime?
girasole
Jan. 19th, 2009 02:18 pm (UTC)
Would love to. I am not as mobile as I would like, but perhaps I could get kradical to act as escort.
margdean56
Jan. 18th, 2009 09:59 pm (UTC)
I remember that apartment very well. It's where the first two Silver Swan parties were held!
ellen_kushner
Jan. 18th, 2009 10:09 pm (UTC)
You got it! So glad you got to see the article, too. I can't wait to see who else turns up from the old days here.....

BTW, how's your "Midsummer II" YA idea coming? Is there a Statute of Limitations after which I can steal it from you....? hot hot hot!
p_zeitgeist
Jan. 18th, 2009 10:02 pm (UTC)
Kill your head! Kill your feet!

-- Please, please tell me the article is in one of the sections that gets distributed out of town. Although I trust you to save it for me if it isn't.
ellen_kushner
Jan. 18th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
I know, I know - who says you couldn't hear straight across the courtyard?

The print version is pretty blurry, actually - printing the online will probably be better! But I will save and save. Cause how the hell do I know what they ship to the Provinces these days? It's in Real Estate, p. 5.

yo skype me
p_zeitgeist
Jan. 19th, 2009 02:09 am (UTC)
I would, but skype tells me you're offline. Not surprising, now that it's hours later, but I lose big.

(I was at the studio until late-ish, and the computer there may have an internet connection, but no way can it handle skype. It can barely manage Firefox. Just as well, or I'd never get any work done at all . . .)
yaoi_in_exile
Jan. 18th, 2009 11:44 pm (UTC)
This is the best fairytale I've heard in ages! I want it bound and published to carry around with me. Pleeease? :D

Did the boa pay his rent on time?
ellen_kushner
Jan. 19th, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)
Hey - you're the artistic one. You do it.

No, the boa was completely useless and escaped for months at a time, until one day . . . But didn't I do the "Live Snake!!" story here last year? (And does anyone know how to search for same?)

However, I'm glad to say that after years of being deadbeats lounging around my livingroom, Richard St Vier & Alec eventually managed to contribute something to the rent, thanks to my agent & publisher.
yaoi_in_exile
Jan. 19th, 2009 06:36 am (UTC)
But...it's *your* story! I couldn't do that! :O

...

...unless I had permission. >3

Z'omg, idea!! Uhm...oh...*flusters* ...I'll note it!

(There are far too many periods around here.)
pamola
Jan. 19th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
Well thank you for the glimpse into Riverside/Bordertown. My wife remembers your neighborhood fondly (living somewhere around 106th about the same time). She wants to know if you frequented the Hungarian Pastry shop. I think she would kill for the recipe of the Chicken Paprikosh.
ellen_kushner
Jan. 19th, 2009 12:32 am (UTC)
(waves to wife) While I was there, the Hungarian Pastry Shop passed from the hands of the original owners to the Greeks who ran the highly successful Symposium, and lost a little of its original character. It's still here, though, and still very popular. Wish there were more like it around here; the neighb is stupidly short on cafes where you can just sit and read or talk and nurse a cuppa.

I deeply mourn L'Eclair on 72nd, which was an authentic, no-frills Viennese cafe sustained, I guess, by a generation of immigrants now gone. I mourn it deeply, and all it represented (including all the free cookies they gave us when we turned up late one night. . . ).

Yeah. Chicken Paprikosh.
mantichore
Jan. 19th, 2009 12:44 am (UTC)
Mascarons
Very nice. I love faces on buildings. I wouldn't have called these gargoyles, though, since what I call gargoyles are those grotesque tortured monsters jutting out from churches and cornerstones to spit rainwater off the buildings. These have a fine grotesque aspect, but are decorations, not waterspouts (and I expect that's where gargoyle comes from: the noise the water makes as it gargles out of the spout).

These stone faces look more like what we in Bordeaux call mascarons (I think the name comes from the Italian). We have tons of them around, just about every house (except for mine, wouldn't you know...) has a few carved faces, ranging from jolly burgers and fine ladies to allegories of the winds and the river (this is a harbour, after all), and even one of the City herself (it's here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmarcel/243056180/in/photostream/ you see her crowned with battlements, inside the triple crescent that's part of Bordeaux's coat of arms — we are le Port de la Lune). They range from the 16th to the 20th century. There have been some rather nice books on the subject.

The angular lines of yours would have said early Art Deco if there hadn't been a picture of the building to confirm it.

Er... it is early Art Deco, isn't it?
ellen_kushner
Jan. 19th, 2009 12:50 am (UTC)
Re: Mascarons
Yes, I wouldn't call them gargoyles either, but there is no other word in English that I know of. Mascarons, eh? I'll try.

Also in English, it's not called Art Deco, that style - that term is a little more narrowly defined here - and that's a bit early for 1909, when the place was built. I'd say it's late-style Arts-and-Crafts, or maybe what we call in houses "Stockbroker Tudor" - an attempt to recreate Olde English with (for 1909) a modern twist.

Funny that my current apt. is 1908. What can I say?
mantichore
Jan. 19th, 2009 07:36 am (UTC)
Re: Mascarons
I'd have expected them to be from a slightly later date, what with their being all angular and stylized like that.

Ah well... I've still some way to go before I'm an expert on architecture. :-(
ellen_kushner
Jan. 26th, 2009 03:57 am (UTC)
Re: Mascarons
Others have replied to the Times in the same vein:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/realestate/25streetletters.html?ref=realestate

Apparently we're allowed to call them "grotesques."
mantichore
Jan. 26th, 2009 06:45 am (UTC)
Re: Mascarons
What? Do I read right? No gargoyles in all New York? Does that mean Saint Pat doesn't have gargoyles? How embarrassing for a Gothic cathedral! I'm shocked and bemused.
ellen_kushner
Jan. 26th, 2009 02:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Mascarons
Nonsense! St John the Divine has gargoyles, and I'm sure St Pat's does, too. Oh, and the Woolworth Bldg.....
mantichore
Jan. 26th, 2009 02:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Mascarons
Well, if the writer of the article is right, they are stopped up. Oh, the infamy! ^_____________^
(Deleted comment)
1crowdedhour
Jan. 19th, 2009 05:17 pm (UTC)
Rule Britannia!
I had no idea that was the name of the building. Maybe the attention from the NYT will bring the sculptor's name to light?
kathmuse
Jan. 19th, 2009 05:59 pm (UTC)
What a great story!
I adore gargoyles! It would be hard for me to leave a place festooned with them.

~kath
stardragonca
Jan. 19th, 2009 10:34 pm (UTC)
Think of the arguments the future archaeologists will have!
queenbookwench
Jan. 21st, 2009 03:24 am (UTC)
That's a lovely story and a charming building! Thanks for sharing the both of them with us!
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )

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