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.
(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.