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March 15, 2005

Cool salvage
Posted by Teresa at 10:35 AM * 92 comments

I work in the Flatiron Building. Lately, they’ve been repairing the ornate terra cotta bits around the top. Most recently they’ve been working on the—okay, I’m not sure of the exact term, but it’s a sort of a colonnade made of closely-spaced urn-shaped pillars or columns.

(In context: The ornamental bits at the top of the building, which is at the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue, on the south side of 23rd Street.)

(Historical note: They almost certainly came from the Atlantic Terra Cotta Works of Tottenville, on Staten Island, which made a great deal of the ornate terra cotta cladding you can still see on Beaux Arts buildings in the Northeast.)

Anyway, I recently had an errand to run up on the top floor, so I took a few minutes to nose round in the office space up there that’s being renovated. Outside the windows, workmen were pulling cracked or broken columns out of the colonnade and tossing them onto a heap. I opened the window, stuck my head out, and mustered up enough Spanish to say “Can I have one of those? I just want it for my garden.” They gave me a nice corner of a column. They’d have given me the entire bottom half of one, but I couldn’t possibly have carried it.

My architectural bit was much admired, especially since you could see the workmen’s fingermarks in the fired clay on the inside of the pillar. It is now sitting in my dining room, from whence it will shortly be moved into the garden.

Today I noticed a very large dumpster full of broken masonry sitting at the curb on the east side of the building. I went and poked around, and sure enough, there were some more nice fragments from those columns. I snagged a half-dozen, most of which have now been given to other Toroids to use as bookends or garden ornaments.

If you’re the scrounging sort, are in New York, and would fancy a historical bit of ornamental terra cotta, the dumpster’s on the east side of the building. Act now.

Comments on Cool salvage:
#1 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 11:45 AM:

Oh, for a bit of the Flatiron building! We have a garden now, too...but the shipping costs would be prohibitive. If you wanted to save me a decorative sliver that I could pick up on my next trip East, that would be swell, but I can't expect it. It's very cool salvage, indeed. What are you going to surround yours with in the garden, various sorts of thyme?

#2 ::: LizardBreath ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 12:34 PM:

This is off the top of my head, but don't use it as a garden ornament surrounded by plants that you mean to eat. I've been told that one of the reasons that terra-cotta ornamentation stopped being widely used is that the materials used were very toxic (I can't remember what specifically -- I remember it being something that sounded archetypically poisonous: strychnine, cyanide, lead...). I'll google around, and see if I can find anything confirmatory.

And if you work in the Flatiron Building as an SF editor, you have precisely the life I wanted as a teenager.

#3 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 01:04 PM:

This, exactly, is why I miss the east coast and Manhattan. I can't believe you work in the Flatiron Building. You lucky woman.

#4 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 01:19 PM:

Lovely pictures!

#5 ::: Julie S ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 01:34 PM:

Thanks for the tip! I scored some wonderful pieces today--although perhaps you should mention that the dumpster is on the east side of the building, not the west.

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 03:21 PM:

Thank you, Julie. East it is.

Mad, I'd already set a nice one aside for you. And the scarf (which is splendid) matches what I'm wearing today. Thank you!

LizardBreath, I have significant doubts about that. There's more than one kind of terra cotta. These fragments are architectural-grade vitrified ceramics, so they're going to be fairly inert to start with. If anything in them was going to leach out, I expect it will have long since done so in the hundred-plus unsheltered years they've spent on top of a notoriously wind-buffeted building, in a city that gets more annual precipitation than Seattle.

Basically, if these chunks of ceramics were capable of exuding significant amounts of chemicals, we'd be using them as a slow-release agrichemical delivery system.

The red earthenware you probably have in mind has always been widely used. Traditional tile roofs are made of it. So are strawberry pots, and the red clay pots that look so nice with geraniums. The southwestern olla, a self-cooling water jug, doesn't work if it's made of anything else.

You can eat commercial potter's clay, though I wouldn't recommend it.

I only know of a few toxicity issues that turn up with red earthenware. One is that it's particularly well-suited to lead glazes. You used to see a lot of lead-glazed earthenware coming in from the Third World.

Another is that putting a dab of barium into your clay to keep mineral salts from migrating when the clay dries. I'm not sure how toxic that is in the quantities used, and of course not everyone uses it.

The other issue is that earthenware is very porous. This has led people to coat it with various compounds, not all of which are safe for human consumption. Earthenware's porosity also means you can alter its appearance by painting various substances onto it and allowing them to soak in. I remember hearing that motor oil can create some interesting effects; and of course you wouldn't want to ingest that.

(Potters will do damned near anything if it produces an interesting effect. I remember hearing a couple of my pottery teachers reminiscing about their student days, when they mixed dry powdered milk into their wet clay, then put it in a plastic garbage can and slapped a lid on it for a month or two. They said the clay turned almost black and smelled unbelievably foul, but it had the desirable throwing characteristics of clay that had been allowed to sit and age for a year or more, and the organic material all burned away when you fired it.

Another potter reminisced about dry-throwing heavily grogged stoneware. Dry-throwing is when you throw slowly, using multiple low-pressure pulls and as little water as possible, so that your clay stays stiffer and can be thrown higher and thinner. After he'd been working this way for some time, he discovered that he'd worn away his fingertips so badly that he'd just left a very even spiral streak of blood all the way up the pot. But that was okay, he said, because the iron oxide in his blood had looked interesting when the pot was fired.)

#7 ::: LizardBreath ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 03:39 PM:

Hmmm, you're probably right -- at least I've been googling and can't find anything that raises the issue of toxicity with relation to terra cotta ornamentation. I was thinking specifically of architectural-grade terra-cotta ornaments, but my information came from an architect of my acquaintance idly pontificating about the facade of a Louis Sullivan building on Bleeker Street ("They can't do that any more -- the stuff they have to add to the clay is too toxic to work with"), rather than from any more rigorous source. Appears he was either wrong, or at least it's not hazardous enough for anyone to have posted anything about it on that interweb thingie.

#8 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 04:15 PM:

Terra cotta is still used in new buildings - our marvelous 1980's public library building has all kinds of terra cotta widgets on the outside - but it doesn't stand up to the weather as well as, ferinstance, granite. So you don't see it being used for the tile facades of new buildings, at least not here in Chicago, where the temperature is always one extreme or the other.

#9 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 04:17 PM:

Potters will do damned near anything if it produces an interesting effect.

I once mixed a packet of Knox Gelatine into a glaze. Firing produced a glaze with tiny bubbles in it, which were pretty when just below the surface. As I recall, only a very few of them actually left sharp-edged holes in the surface of the cup, and I could have sanded those out (or done a second glaze) if I'd cared that much. By then I was on to sculpture and much less interested in the glazes per se.

#10 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 04:25 PM:

LizardBreath, your architect friend could still be right: there are things which are too toxic to work with on a daily basis, but which don't particularly leach out after the clay is fired. Firing fuses a lot of things. Also, it could well be that toxins DID leach out of all that terracotta for the first 20 years...which would still leave Teresa's garden perfectly safe.

#11 ::: PinkDreamPoppies ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 05:35 PM:

You don't have the life I wanted as a teenager. You have the life I want now... What a beautiful building.

#12 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 05:55 PM:

Potters will do damned near anything if it produces an interesting effect.

One can never go very far without running into a Jack Vance reference. Encounters with Jon Singer are also radiant anisotropic. Both of these are good things.

If the famed Orange Fiestaware Building is ever demolished, though, there may be Issues.

#13 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 06:16 PM:

Teresa writes:

These fragments are architectural-grade vitrified ceramics, so they're going to be fairly inert to start with. If anything in them was going to leach out, I expect it will have long since done so in the hundred-plus unsheltered years they've spent on top of a notoriously wind-buffeted building, in a city that gets more annual precipitation than Seattle.
To say nothing of all the turbulence stirred up by dogfights between P-40s and giant flying robots among the skyscrapers.

#14 ::: gracelandwest ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 07:00 PM:

I'm so jealous that you work in the Flatiron building. I honestly didn't think that building existed until I was an adult. I thought it was just some sort of matte painting that was created for the movies. I used to work in Adventureland at Disneyworld. In my mind, that's somewhat linked in an imaginary sense.

#15 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 07:33 PM:

Potters will do damned near anything if it produces an interesting effect. I remember hearing a couple of my pottery teachers reminiscing about their student days, when they mixed dry powdered milk into their wet clay...

Experimentalists too. Actually, fluid dynamicists are fond of using powdered milk to visualize wakes. Taneda made some beautiful pictures of Karman vortex streets, which you can see in the wake behind a cylinder under certain conditions. (I can't resist mentioning that I've simulated them on my Mac.) The other popular technique is to generate lots of tiny bubbles by electrolysis of water— the bubbles get swept downstream just like the milk.

#16 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 07:35 PM:

There are a number of acutely angled buildings across the US, often the result of pre-existing railroad lines that the city grew to surround (there are more industrial ones than office buildings). A couple are even known as "Flatiron Buildings." But only that one has the location. And Alfred Stieglitz, who did for it what da'Vinci did for the babe with the weasel. Uh, ermine.

#17 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 07:49 PM:

The Antarctic has some very odd three sided buildings whose angles add up to 190 degrees, or 170 degrees. They have bas reliefs, but of inky black basalt and not terra-cotta.

#18 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 07:58 PM:

Update: My brother is headed for your dumpster.

#19 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 07:59 PM:

"It's terra-cotta . . . but not as we know it."

#20 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 08:00 PM:

Stefan, were these the buildings reported by the Miskatonic Expedition of 1930-31 sponsored by the Nathaniel Derby Pickman Foundation?

#21 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 08:17 PM:

tekeli-li! tekeli-li!

* * *

A less nice person than Teresa would have scarfed up all those bits of Flatiron and had them on eBay by now . . .

#22 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 08:28 PM:

Just make sure that you take the fragments from the dumpster -- and stay away from those passageways with the Cyclopean stonework heading down into the black abyss.

#23 ::: Sarah Prince ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 10:03 PM:

I am envious, and going to mention that dumpster to my sister the architect in New Haven. I am glad to see you have more energy again.

#24 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 10:31 PM:

I'm on the wrong coast, alas.
Teresa, if I sent you a cool rock from British Columbia, would you send me a small piece of the Flatiron Building?

#25 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 10:35 PM:

I've always seethed with envy at the thought that you work in the Flatiron building, one of the world's great mysterious objects.

#26 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 10:43 PM:

In the course of our "pilgrimage to an unknown destination" this year my wife and I found ourselves at the delightfully offbeat City Museum of St. Louis. It's full of delightful exhibits and grottos created with found materials (note the painted conveyer rollers used as balustrades throughout!)

It's all fantastic and whimsical and a helluva lot of fun - a must-see in St. L. But tucked away on the third floor things get sober - neatly stored on some industrial racks, and with minimal display, is a collection of terra cotta ornament rescued from the dumpsters of the late 20th Century. It's heartbreaking - exquisite decor from Midwest buildings that were trashed to make way for the likes of the United Center. There's no link for it on the museum site, either - sic transit gloria mundi.

#27 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 10:49 PM:

P.S. - Teresa - is your "colonnade" a balustrade?

#28 ::: Maureen Kincaid Speller ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 01:25 AM:

I really wish I was in New York rather than the UK. PaulK would get such a kick out of possessing a chunk of the Flatiron – it's his favourite building in NYC (my heart, alas, is given to the Chrysler, though the Flatiron runs it a close second).

If you recall the stone pillar that stands in my front garden, it is alleged to come from the old Waterloo Bridge, though I have only the word of a previous owner of the house. What it is doing in my garden is anyone's guess though I am of the opinion it definitely comes from some sort of balustrade rather than being intended to be a stand-alone garden ornament.

#29 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 02:51 AM:

I'm in daytrip-range of the Flatiron's dumpster.

I'm trying to decide if I've traded in my dumpster-diving days of youth for the minivan of adulthood. Well, actually, I'm sitting here upstate, wondering how much of the Flatiron Building would fit in the minivan. Might look nice around the garden....

John M. Ford: If the famed Orange Fiestaware Building is ever demolished, though, there may be Issues.

Thank you for that.

And LizardBreath: the soil in a Brooklyn garden is probably more worrisome than anything likely to be in the terra cotta. (Fifty years of lead from automobile exhaust, if nothing else...then add a century of pesticides.)

Teresa: There's a book called The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures on the Edge of a City , in which the author describes finding - some 30 years later - the remains of the original Penn Station over in a New Jersey landfill. I can see the bits from the Flatiron joining them. (Unless We Help.)

#30 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 05:21 AM:

Bob, leave those bits of Flatiron in the landfill. Think of future archeologists: what will they have to look forward to, sorting through our discarded milk cartons and TV guides, unless we leave a few treasures for them?

#31 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 06:46 AM:

Damn. I love architectural salvage. But the next time I am in NY is April 1, for a memorial to Trina Schart Hyman. Can't quite envision carting a piece around during that.

Jane

#32 ::: Sue ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 07:42 AM:

Teresa, I am always amazed--and impressed--by the wide range of your interests and knowledge. Thanks for being one-stop shopping for lazy-ole-me.

#33 ::: epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 09:04 AM:

Gee, there are times when I wish I could jaunte. From Sydney (Lat -33.883; Long 151.217) to NYC ( Lat 40.714; Long -74.006) is just a step too far yet.

#34 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 10:48 AM:

I've always liked the Flatiron building--- but growing up in northern Indiana, I've always felt closer to Chicago landmarks, not NYC...

#35 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 11:23 AM:

Argh argh argh yet another reason for me to miss working in NYC.

#36 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 11:27 AM:

Ah, if only! Bit too far for me to trek down to NYC and back again, and I think work would notice me missing before too long .

OTOH, if anyone from Massachusetts is heading that way to scrounge, I might be able to come up with a suitable bribe to bring me back a bookend-sized piece. I just finished building floor-to-ceiling bookshelves across several walls of my house and getting my books in order for the first time in a decade, during the process of which I discovered that more of the books I own are published by Tor than by any other publisher (a little over 20% of my collection). So holding them up with a bit of the Flatiron building would have the sort of inobvious meaningfulness that I thrive on. (-:

#37 ::: Deborah Green ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 12:46 PM:

Oooh, field trip! I hope the dumpster's hasn't been emptied. Not that I need any more stuff in my apartment (and I don't have a garden), but it's time for spring cleaning. I can find space somewhere.

#38 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 01:51 PM:

I wish I had a garden to put pieces of buildings in... Maybe one day.

#39 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 02:00 PM:

NelC"

"future archeologists: what will they have to look forward to, sorting through our discarded milk cartons and TV guides..."

Paper products, and many plastics, and most metals, decay by organic (bacteria) and inorganic processes (rust). What will be clear to future archaologists is that we were the Age of the Coca-Cola Bottle, and the Age of Plutonium.

Or, if they look at our artifacts on the Moon, we are the Age of LEMs, Lens Caps, and Used Urine Bags.

This thread reminds me of David Brin taking a piece of the Berlin Wall as it was being demolished. Then he thought that too many people were doing the same, and he wanted to be different. So he swallowed his pebble-sized piece of the Berlin Wall.

Many folks at Rockwell (now Boeing) have pieces of used Space Shuttle tiles. NASA eventually cracked down on the old practice of rings whose stones were fragments of analyzed moonrocks. Worth more than diamond rings, of course. Plenty of Significant Others of scientists and technicians at The Lunatic Asylum got those rings, until the beancounters noticed. I've stepped on such a moonrock fragment, in order to claim that I've, sort of, walked on the Moon.

Pieces of the Great Pyramid, of course, were famously stripped away to build more humble abodes. Napoleon, Sphinx, yadda yadda.

#40 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 03:51 PM:

Beam Jockey sez: To say nothing of all the turbulence stirred up by dogfights between P-40s and giant flying robots among the skyscrapers.

Not to mention cranky, cigar-chomping newspaper editors with moonlighting photographers... http://www.imdb.com/gallery/ss/0316654/Ss/0316654/DF-14121_r.jpg?path=gallery&path_key=0316654

#41 ::: Lex Alexander ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 04:04 PM:

Oh, man. I worked for a small PR agency in 1982-83 on the 13th floor of the Flatiron; my boss's office was in the point, with a spectacular view. When she was out of the office at lunchtime, which was fairly frequently, I'd often go in there to eat my lunch while just enjoying the view.

It's one of the things I miss most about New York.

#42 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 04:18 PM:

Lovely building. The only job I have ever done for the publishing industry, was to proofread a textbook of some kind for St. Martin's Press in (IIRC) 1989, which was also the only job I have done in the flatiron building. (Well I did the job in my apartment, but I picked it up and dropped it off at the Flatiron.)

#43 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 05:27 PM:

Actually, JvP, I understand that in a landfill nothing much decays at all, due to a lack of sufficiently hungry anaerobic bacteria. There's a lanfill around here somewhere that has vents to release the methane, but they don't get much oxygen down there.

Compost heaps only work if you fluff them every so often. Landfills are much, much bigger and never get fluffed. ("Get fluffed, you landfill!")

So it's quite possible that future archeologists will find packages of hotdogs, perfectly preserved, as in the peat bogs of Ireland. That's if our starving, freezing descendants haven't already mined all the landfills for raw materials, cursing their fat ancestors for the prodigal wastrels we were.

#44 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 05:30 PM:

We have a triangle building like that in Rosslyn, VA (just over the river from DC) except that the first floor is empty on the point, held up by columns. It had a gas station there. A church used to meet in most of the upstairs, but some years ago the owner of the building decided to sell. There was a lot of protest because there's not many gas stations in Rosslyn, but the building was made into offices anyway.

#45 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 07:32 PM:

Note, despite the "0 trackbacks," that this has been picked up by one of my fave websites, www.curbed.com, which also links to a couple other current stories about the Flatiron Bldg.

#46 ::: Dave ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 08:06 PM:

I just visited the big Dumpster, 7 p.m. on March 16. Looks like the best stuff is gone, but I did find four bits with some architectural detail. (Maybe there's better stuff if you're serious about rooting around. ... I only took pieces in reach-in range, as there's a *lot* of terra cotta dust.)

#47 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 10:43 PM:

Alack, I came by after work and peered under the tarpaulin covering the dumpster; but all I could see were odd-shaped bits of debris. So I did not take anything with me.

But I'm glad I walked down that way because I got a look at another extremely lovely building which I had not noticed before; right across Madison Park from Theresa's office, is the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, which is housed in one of the most striking neoclassical buildings I can remember having seen. (Madison and 25th.) It is not awe-inspiring the way that say the NY Public Library or the Metropolitan Museum can be, as it's not on such a large scale or elevated above street level in the same way. But it just seemed perfectly put together, every detail stood out in just the right proportion. And best of all, the building appears to have been recently washed -- the marble glows in the sunlight like... like something pleasantly radiant. If you want a real treat, go into the lobby and look around. (I am assuming it is alright to do this as I did and the guard did not harrass me.) The correct proportionsality and visual charm continue on the inside.

#48 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 11:00 PM:

I spoke to my father tonight, who was rather delighted by the idea - I remember him taking me to see the Flatiron Building when we first went to New York; he'd stumbled on it when visiting about 1970, and has always been fond of it. (Mind you, coming from Leicester I suppose anything unusual would have had that effect...)

It's one of my favourite buildings, if only because it always looks like a photograph with some bizzare perspective distortion going on. Beautiful.

#49 ::: Kylee Peterson ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 12:22 AM:

My recent architectural salvage has been bits of glass that seem to have come in the gravel to a construction site next to where I'm temping. Lots of stained glass, in lovely blues and greens and swirled yellows, and, more mysteriously, chunks of what was evidently very thick glass, at least an inch. Having just read Mongo at the time, I picked glass out of gravel unfazed, even when the folks working on the site stood near me a little pointedly. I'm thinking I might make a mosaic of some kind, though part of me says, "What, I have to make something?"

#50 ::: Kit Russell ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 01:25 AM:

Oooo...flatiron...if only I was on the other coast!

#51 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 03:35 AM:

Speaking of moon rocks, it occurred to me that moon rocks ought to be amazing anti-vampire weapons. Consider: sunlight destroys vampires, but moonlight doesn't. Moonlight is reflected sunlight, so why should that be? Clearly the moon absorbs whatever the harmful factor is. Rocks from the moon's surface have probably spent billions of years soaking up sunlight; their merest touch should turn a vampire to ashes!

#52 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 05:20 AM:

Jeremy, this may not be the place you were looking at -- the map and directions shown here don't seem to correspond to your location -- but it looks rather nice anyway. There's even an online booklet [PDF] on the building's history.

#53 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 08:10 AM:

Hi Epacris, yeah, that building is in Albany which is a fair trek from Madison Park. here is a picture of the building I was talking about.

#54 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 09:45 AM:

David Goldfarb writes:

Clearly the moon absorbs whatever the harmful factor is. Rocks from the moon's surface have probably spent billions of years soaking up sunlight; their merest touch should turn a vampire to ashes!

I think you're on to something here.

Maybe it's helium-3, scarcely present on the terrestrial surface but pounded into the lunar regolith by the solar wind?

#55 ::: Melanie Fletcher ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 11:02 AM:

So THAT'S the Flatiron Building! I've walked past it a number on times when I was in New York, but I never matched the architecture to the name.

It's truly nifty that you were able to grab parts of the columns -- and there's more in a dumpster? Hmm, wonder if I could convince the boss that I need to visit the NY office. . .

#56 ::: LizardBreath ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 11:19 AM:

But I'm glad I walked down that way because I got a look at another extremely lovely building which I had not noticed before; right across Madison Park from Theresa's office, is the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, which is housed in one of the most striking neoclassical buildings I can remember having seen. (Madison and 25th.)

Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, not Superior Court, and if you like the outside, you should see the courtroom. Warm colored marble and a lot of Art Nouveau glass -- it's like being inside a Tiffany lampshade. The one time I've had the chance to argue there, I had a heck of a time not being distracted by how pretty the room was.

#57 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 12:29 PM:

LizardBreath:

Compared to other states (such as California, where I have spent more years than in my native Manhattan and Brooklyn), New York has it backwards, as to which is more superior: Appellate Court or Supreme Court. "Law and Order" is accurate about this.

My son saw an evangelical billboard that warned "Christ will judge you soon!"

"Would that go to Appellate Court," said my 16-year-old, "or be fast-tracked to Supreme Court?"

#58 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 12:51 PM:

JvP, Xopher is right. Newspaper in a landfill has a slower decay rate than disposable diapers. The main cause is the effort we make to ensure that the landfill doesn't contaminate the groundwater, with impermeable liners and daily clay caps over the trash. As a result, the contents aren't exposed to enough moisture to provide the bacteria with a suitable culture.

#59 ::: LizardBreath ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 12:56 PM:

Not that anyone else is in the least interested, but just because I hate seeing confused information -- NY hasn't got an Appellate Court. (That is, we have appellate courts, but that isn't the right name.)

Level 1, where you have a trial -- Supreme Court.

Level 2, where you take your initial appeal from the Supreme Court -- Appellate Division of the Supreme Court (in day-to-day usage, the Appellate Division)

Level 3, what would be in any other state or in the Federal system the Supreme Court, the highest state court -- Court of Appeals.

There are various other minor courts, Civil Court, county courts, etc., but those three levels give the basic structure of the NY courts.

#60 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 01:36 PM:

LizardBreath, it's possible that toxic materials were involved in manufacturing the terra cotta the guy was pointing to. A properly vitrified clay body and glaze will tend to be inert, lead being the most famous exception (end-user problems get all the publicity), but that says nothing about the pre-firing ingredients and the manufacturing process.

To grab one quick and gaudy example, salt-glazed pottery was made by heating pots until they were an incandescent orange-red, then throwing salt into the kiln. The salt volatilized, the silica in the clay body grabbed off the sodium to form a glaze, and the kiln puffed out clouds of hydrochloric acid. Neighbors tended to complain.

What your pontificating friend didn't appreciate is that potters find workarounds. Architectural terra cotta is still being produced. Salt firing now uses different sodium compounds. Someday they may even figure out how to replace Albany slip.

Pinkdream, Graceland, Steve Taylor, it's a lovely building, and the view from Tom's window is stupendous, but the building's owners have done their best to make the interior look just like every other office building. For instance, the original ceiling heights -- some as high as 17' -- have disappeared behind low acoustic-tile suspended ceilings. During the recent renovations, I noticed that where they'd taken up the multiple layers of linoleum in the central elevator lobby on one floor, the floor revealed underneath was patterned mosaic tile. I asked Fritz Foy whether that meant there might be mosaic tile floors under the linoleum in some of the other lobbies, and he said there might well be.

Up on the 19th floor, whence Tor was temporarily relocated during renovations, part of the floor has had the original ceiling heights restored. It's spectacular: light, airy, and spacious.

We can wish.

Seith John M. Ford: "If the famed Orange Fiestaware Building is ever demolished, though, there may be Issues."

Feel like telling the story? It's a goodie.

Bill Higgins, I've Particled that link. It's kind of cool to work in one of the buildings giant robot monsters always head for. ... Did your brother get anything from the dumpster? Deborah, Bob Oldendorf, how about you?

Stefan Jones, I thought of maybe doing the eBay thing, but all three lots of fragments I brought up to the office met with so much covetous admiration from my fellow Toroids that I couldn't bear to not give them away.

Barbara Gordon, I'll try to get you a chunk. Does it need to be architecturally recognizable, or will a relic suffice?

Mark D.: Balustrade! Thank you! I hate it when I can't remember a word. ... The terra cotta salvage may be heartbreaking, but at least they saved it. There used to be a wonderful architectural salvage firm on the Lower East Side, three stories plus one vacant lot's worth of large-scale architectural salvage. They had marvels and wonders. Unfortunately, the owners injudiciously removed one too many interior walls from the building. It collapsed, taking with it all their stock.

NelC, New York is going to be a rich source of imponderable finds for future archaeologists. For instance, what underlies the FDR -- the highway that runs up the east coastline of Manhattan -- is post-Blitz rubble from Bristol. All those cargo ships that were going over needed ballast for their return voyage. When they got back to NY, the rubble was used as landfill.

More anon, books to make --

#61 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 03:01 PM:

Teresa: Bob Oldendorf, how about you?

Sadly, no. I gave it more than a passing thought; but it's end-of-the-fiscal-year crunch time at my office, so Responsibility (once again...) won out over Adventure.

One of the factors weighing in the balance is that The Girl Who Would Become My Bride used to have a print of the Stieglitz photo of the Flatiron back in her dorm room. I know she'd be tickled to have an actual chunk of it in her garden today.

I'd guess that the dumpster is in just about the same spot where the movie camera was set up a century ago, yes?

At the foot of the Flatiron Building


linked text = Linked text

#62 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 07:02 PM:

Did your brother get anything from the dumpster?

Teresa, I haven't heard back yet.

#63 ::: Zack ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 09:28 PM:

I don't know exactly what John M. Ford was thinking of, but Orange Fiestaware was a line of dinnerware, semi-legendary for using uranium oxide in the glaze.

#64 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 10:46 PM:

Ooh ooh! What kind of rock would you like? Geologically interesting, or sea-sculpted?
A piece with fingermarks would be the absolute coolest, but the relic aspect is the important part. I have a fragment of Romano-British floor-tile with distinct fingermarks in it. There's something amazing about putting one's own hand in the marks made by a past craftsman.
I'll pay for shipping - I don't expect to be in New York in the foreseeable future, so pickup is out!

#65 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 10:53 PM:

Zack: this is not to be confused with the Fiestaware pitchers that had too much lead in the glaze and were leaching it out every time Orange Juice was served. I had a lengthy conversation once with someone who had an Orange Fiestaware pitcher that was sure her ovaries had been fried by drinking OJ from it and don't need to go through that one again, thank you..

#66 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 11:14 PM:

A pup (spore?) of the Flatiron on this coast:
"The Europe Hotel
Corner of Powell and Alexander Street
Built in 1908-09 by Angelo Calori. The notable Vancouver architectural firm, Parr and Fee, designed the Europe, a 'flat-iron shaped' building for this triangular-shaped lot. It was the earliest reinforced concrete structure in Canada and the first fireproof hotel in western Canada. The building was renovated in 1983 to provide affordable housing units."
There's a picture of it here:
http://www.bearspage.info/h/tra/ca/bc/va/i/ch/g1.html
As far as screen credits, it was the bookstore in The Neverending Story.

#67 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2005, 12:51 AM:

I would dearly love a bit, T. It's been hell here lately, what with wrist surgery and that other stuff you already knew about. Part of the building would make me smile.

As tit for tat, I could save out more of that large basalt boulder we found while excavating here; part of the Massabessic Gneiss Complex.

#68 ::: Lois Aleta Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2005, 01:20 AM:

Fiesta was, and is, made in many colors by Homer Laughlin China of Newell, West Virginia, which is up the road -- W.Va. Route 2 -- from me about 20 miles or so, at the opposite end of the county. (The southern boundary of Hancock County runs through the other end of my block. Newell is at the northernmost tip of, not only the county, but the state.)

It was the red that contained uranium. Both that color and the orange/lead have long since been dropped from production, but they are highly collectible, as are the other old colors and the newer ones, too. There's even a new red color, cinnabar, that's a lot like the old one but won't set your Geiger counter off. I have several things in periwinkle and cobalt blue that I bought in the factory outlet. (Some are seconds, with tiny chips in the or other problems in the glaze, and thus much cheaper, but still usuable.)

#69 ::: Gigi Rose ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2005, 12:15 PM:

It is amazing what I learn by reading this blog.

You know dumpster diving is one of my favorite ways of practicing the Reduce/Reuse/Recycle principle. There's a surprise in every package! Seriously I've cut down on this because my basement is becoming full. I've become more selective as well.
My town, New Albany has a practice of allowing individuals an opportunity to salvage bricks and stones from city buildings. They also have a lot where you can deposit or pick up fill material. Across the river in Louisville they have several companies that specialize in architectural salvage. When I tried to give them my old windows they were not interested and now I'm stuck with 14 aluminum framed windows, some with glass and some without. I would have had my husband build a greenhouse, as he said he would 3 years ago, but alas, it hasn't happened yet. Anyone have ideas?

#70 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2005, 01:53 PM:

Lois Fundis writes:

Fiesta was, and is, made in many colors by Homer Laughlin China of Newell, West Virginia, which is up the road -- W.Va. Route 2 -- from me about 20 miles or so, at the opposite end of the county.

Do tell! I became intimately familiar with Homer's name when I worked loading dishwashers in restaurants and in the college cafeteria. It's on the underside of many a cup and plate.

In fact, it was hours of steamy labor at this task that convinced me that there must be a better way to earn money somewhere on campus. The search led directly to my career as a beam jockey-- the next year I was an operator and gofer at the 8 MV tandem Van de Graaf nuclear accelerator. And that probably looked good on my resume when I applied to Fermilab...

It was the red that contained uranium. Both that color and the orange/lead have long since been dropped from production, but they are highly collectible, as are the other old colors and the newer ones, too. There's even a new red color, cinnabar, that's a lot like the old one but won't set your Geiger counter off.

The old ones are prized among radiation safety people and physics teachers, to use in demonstrations.

#71 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2005, 02:15 PM:

From the Collector's Encyclopedia of Fiesta, Revised 7th ed.

Before 1943 the colorant (14% by wieght of the glaze covering the ware) is uraniam oxide (U-308), with the uranium content being made up of about 0.7% U-235 and the remainder U-238. Between 1943 and 1959 under license by AEC, we have again been producing a red glazed dinnerware. However the colorant now used is depleted technical grade U-308 with the uranium content being made up of about 0.2% U-235 and the remainder U-238.

That's a quote from a letter from the company to a concerned user. The compiler of the encyclopedia had studies conducted about how much radiation the red color (The company always called it red and collectors continue to do so though it looks orange to most people.) gave off and I can post numbers if anyone REALLY wants them.

Why, yes, I do collect Fiesta. However, I collect the original green, yellow, and the new but discontinued lilac. Purple, green, and yellow being my favorite colors.

MKK

#72 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2005, 03:54 PM:

Hmmm - if enough people went dumpster diving to attract building security... well, I can see the Daily News headline now:

Fans Filch Flatiron Facade, Facing Fines

#73 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2005, 04:40 PM:

I initially read that as "Fans Filk...

I suppose we could make up silly stfnal words to that Philip Glass piece...

#74 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2005, 04:46 PM:

Mary Kay writes:

The compiler of the encyclopedia had studies conducted about how much radiation the red color (The company always called it red and collectors continue to do so though it looks orange to most people.) gave off and I can post numbers if anyone REALLY wants them.

Yes, please, it would be cool to know that. I really should request this by e-mail, though.

Serendipitously, I've learned that Roger Ebert reveals himself as a Fiestaware fan in his review of Robots.

#75 ::: Berry Kercheval ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2005, 08:07 PM:

I remember hearing, in my initial briefing at Lawrence Livermore, the story of a researcher whose dosimeter kept reading anomalously high. (The dosimeter is a little gizmo hooked together with the required ID badge that measures each person's radiation exposure.) After painstakingly detailed audits of his work environment it was eventually tracked down to -- you've probably guessed by now -- a red Fiestaware bowl on the front hall table he habitually kept his keys and badge. The moral was, be careful what you do with your badge. (Mary Kay, Jordin may remember this story too...)

#76 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2005, 03:42 PM:

I've posted the information about the radiation of red Fiesta to my web page for Bill and other interested geeks.

Berry: When I heard that story is was a piece of native pottery from Mexico rather than Fiesta. Given the values the researchers found is it likely that it was red Fiesta? (Values at link in above paragraph)

MKK

#77 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2005, 03:43 PM:

Hmm. That link doesn't appear to be working. Here's the url

http://marykay.typepad.com/gallimaufry/2005/03/red_fiesta_and_.html

#78 ::: Berry Kercheval ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2005, 03:55 PM:

Hm, you may be right. It was a while ago, all I'm certain of is it was a uranium glaze on the bowl used for the keys and badge.

#79 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2005, 05:51 PM:

The flatiron building that I'm most familiar with is somewhat smaller, but equally distinct in shape.

#80 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2005, 08:08 AM:

Speaking of which... an article in the New York Observer this a.m. called:

Von Holtzbrinck Seizes Flatiron-Most of Building

Sheesh. The headline makes it sound like it's hand-to-hand up there at Madison Square. I know there's been sporadic sniper-fire down here around Stuy Town. I suppose we are next in the sights of Col. Von Holtzbrinck's Urban Commando Unit.

#81 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2005, 11:06 AM:

When they dropped the new "two cherubs and shield" into place last year, there was One Heck of a Bang and the whole building shook. I was really glad that I'd read in the paper that morning that the thing was being installed that day.

When the wind is from a certain direction, the narrow end of the Flatiron has a lovely, ship-like sway, and there's something that creaks rhythmically in the vicinity of my office on such days that sounds like ship's rigging . . . it makes me quite nostalgic for the sea . . . .

My daughter, who will shortly be 9, did her NYC landmark project on the Flatiron last fall. I had to explain to her that "mommy" could not go into the bibliography and that she had to do actual research to back up what she already knew.

#82 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2005, 12:31 PM:

What's wrong with "Singer, Melissa. Unpublished personal communication, 2004"?

I cited my dad's "personal communication" from time to time when I was in high school. Never got any trouble about it.

Of course, making her find the information in other sources is a good thing, but I think she could have cited you -- after all, you're a Primary Source!

#83 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2005, 01:42 PM:

Xopher:

The rubric for the report didn't allow for anything that isn't in a book or off the web. You had to bring in copies of your source material.

We had the same problem with the science fair experiment. The kid already knew what she needed to know to do the experiment, understand the experiment, and explain the experiment, but nonetheless we had to spend a morning at the library acquiring printed sources for this knowledge.

She measured the relative stretchiness of chewed bubble gum that had been frozen and chewed bubble gum that had not been frozen. She knew what freezing did to substances but neither one of us could remember when or where she acquired that knowledge, probably when she was 5 or 6. So we had to look it up for the purposes of putting it onto the presentation board.

Rubrics are pretty strict in NYC right now, and if you want a decent grade, you've got to stick to them. Perhaps things get easier and looser in the upper grades, but in elementary school they really want kids to learn the rules. Until you know the rules, you can't break them properly, eh?

So dd mostly breaks the rules in her poetry, where her line breaks are really interesting . . . .

#84 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2005, 01:52 PM:

Ah. That's good, teach the kids to obey restrictions that professional academic papers don't...(I spent a summer filing reprints in my dad's office one time, and some of them had the "personal communication" cite.)

OK, OK, grade school. Just learning the rules, and like that, OK.

That said, please allow me to boggle at the fact that a not-quite-NINE-year-old is doing ductility experiments for a science fair. Here it is:

*B*O*G*G*L*E*
I know some pretty bright kids, but wow.

#85 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2005, 02:09 PM:

Y'know, I live with her mind, so it doesn't strike me as odd.

I saw the science fair; there were a lot of plant-growing and mold-growing experiments (and one-bacteria-growing one which was cute but had a big flaw, because the kid compared rinsing w/water to using anti-bacterial soap and didn't include regular soap [2nd grade]). There was a lot of stuff on magnetism and electricity (ye olde potatoe clocke, which violated the rubric anyway, because it called for an _experiment_, not an observation, but it was a 1st grader and the whole science fair was optional for anything below 3rd), some load-bearing stuff, and two kids grew stalactites/stalagamites.

Bubble gum stretching seemed to fit right in.

There was another gum project, by a 5th grader--he measured how much weight gum loses when you chew it. Which my daughter and I thought was kind of neat.

#86 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2005, 02:56 PM:

Thanks, LizardBreath, for reminding me that I should really do my NYPractice reading, and prep my bar app, instead of reading Making Light.

#87 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2005, 03:46 PM:

Once again--see curbed.com today (Monday) for further update on this story...

#88 ::: marty ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2005, 09:40 PM:

Happy birthday, Teresa.

#89 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2005, 10:35 PM:

I almost had a job in KC's version of the Flatiorn, the Western Auto Building. It was a Good Thing that I didn't get it (they wanted to pay rather less than the pittance the Ad agency paid me, for a layout artist position--the job I ended up with at Atwood, then Ascend, was almost a $10,000 raise just for getting the job!!!), WA went 'poof' about a year after I interviewed.

http://www.westernauto-lofts.com/html/home.php

The big scare was that it would be torn down, it's a classic building in the "Crossroads" district (between the bluffs, where I live just south of and the river, where the main downtown is). But it's historic value was recognized and it's become a condominium building (prolly with some really weird rooms).

There are lots of art galleries, 18th and Vine, Crown Center and a bunch of other stuff within walking distance of the Western Auto building, so it's a hot location to live!

#90 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2005, 11:12 AM:

I find myself wanting a web-page with thumbnails of various flatiron buildings.
And almost totally irrelevantly - for years in the SCA I was puzzled by the term 'heater shield' for the classic triangle-with-curved-sides shield shape, until I was told that heater in this context meant smoothing iron or flatiron. (My OED cites this heraldic usage for 1821 - I did doubt it was medieval)

#91 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2005, 05:34 PM:

A random but fascinating Flatiron fact I just stumbled across: I've been meaning to read Pat Pflieger's article about the letters to Robert Merry's Museum (An "Online Community" of the Nineteenth Century) -- a link from here, actually -- for some time, and lo, a book is now out with collected letters.

Daniel H. Burnham was listed as one of the participants. And according to this, he grew up to design the Flatiron Building.

I'm sure computers would have looked rather strange to him, but if he was one of the Merry Cousins he would have been very familiar with the trappings of virtual communities. And there's something strangely appropriate about that.

#92 ::: Randall ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2006, 09:56 PM:

Interesting thread, shame that they destroyed some of the original terra cotta and tossed it in a dumpster, building is a landmark so I don't know what the whole story is.
Ebay would have been a good place for some of it, I would have looked for some pieces to buy.

As a sculptor with a specialty of recreating and replicating 19th century architectural sculptures, I can say the terra cotta is inert, it was the WORKERS who breathed the dust as well as sprayed on lead based glazes post 1900 or so when that was often applied with spray guns and no masks, filters or anything- who were basically breathing in lead.

The pieces are nice, but hardly difficult to recreate in clay, I can create a large 19th century spandrel panel in about 20-30 hours.

Randall, webdirector of Randall's Lost new York City, sculpture studio and web gallery of demolished 19th century NYC buildings.

http://www.lostnewyorkcity.com

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