Last week, I took a trip up to 138th Street and Amsterdam to scout a location I’ve been meaning to visit for the longest time: the City College of New York.
City College is one of those great places in the city where you step through the gates…
…and suddenly feel like you’ve been transported far, far from Manhattan.
I was walking around the north quadrangle, which consists of the original four campus buildings built in 1906…
…and as I was heading into Harris Hall, I suddenly got the strangest feeling that I was being watched. I turned to my right…
…and this guy was sticking his tongue out at me!
And he wasn’t alone. Above me, a frowning professor-type was beckoning me in…
…while on my left, I was being laughed at:
There were even more faces buried in the arch…
…all watching with mocking stares.
Finally, two owl statues were positioned on either side of the door.
In total, that’s 9 bits of statuary crammed around a single entrance. Amazed, I stepped back and looked up…
…and realized I was being watched…
…from every direction I turned.
City College has over 1,000 (yes, 1,000!) grotesques and gargoyles covering its buildings, and each has such individual character that it’s hard to kick the feeling they’re on the verge of coming to life Hogwarts-style to mock you as you walk around the campus.
I spent about an hour or so trying to find as many of the bizarre and wonderful creatures as I could – here are some of my favorites.
When it comes to the traditional demon-style grotesques and gargoyles, City College has some great examples. Several winged creatures are perched around the top of the tower at Compton Hall…
…each a completely different style from the next.
The most haunting, in my opinion, is the gargoyle on the west-side, which features a human head disturbingly attached to an eagle-like body, its mouth agape in a pained screech:
Another favorite demon can be found perched on the corner of Harris Hall…
…a horned figure holding a book with the initials FD written inside. I’d love to know who or what this is in reference to (thought for a minute the F might be for Faust, but as far as I know, Faust never had a surname beginning with D).
Another demon can be found above the clock on Harris Hall…
…a strange robed figure leaning in an ear to hear the students below:
A shield-holding demon:
But there are more than just demons at City College. In fact, much the statuary follows a particular theme. For example, look closely…
…and you’ll see a laborer drilling into the side of the building:
Another literally screws into the corner of the building:
This guy is yanking out a stray nail with a hammer:
Another is hammering on an anvil:
Still another has at it with a sledge-hammer.
Not sure what this one is up to:
Whereas these literally seem to be taking part in the construction (or deconstruction?) of the building, still another group of grotesques are meant to represent the various disciplines and arts at the university.
It starts simple, with a basic professorial-type reading a book:
I love this glasses-clad professor leering down at students entering the building:
A mathematician. If you notice some of the grotesques have a decidedly more human appearance than the typical caricatures, there’s a good chance they were based on members of the faculty.
Then we hit the music department…
…and you have nearly a full band…
…playing above you:
My favorite is the drummer:
Then on to the sciences: love this guy examining a butterfly with a magnifying glass:
A Dumbledore-like chemist mixes a potion:
And of course, painting, represented by quite possibly the angriest-looking artist in New York:
I’m guessing that this figure contemplating an hourglass represents philosophy:
Another figure, clearly based on a real person (how great would it be to be forever immortalized as a grotesque?):
Still more fascinating examples can be found surrounding the entrances to buildings. Above the door to Baskeville…
…is a professor holding out what appears to be a test in geometry:
…and beside him, another life-like representation:
There’s something so wonderful about mixing such staid architecture with such whimsical figures. This guy may be in charge of holding a formal shield, for example, but he could care less about it:
Perhaps he’s having a conversation with his neighbor?
In fact, no one’s all that happy at this entrance:
A few final ones. In the corner of Wingate Hall…
….a guy flips his feet over his head while precariously holding on:
Nearby, an impish-looking fellow holds onto a ring:
And beside him, an older-looking grotesque holds the seal of the college:
In fact, quite a lot of the figures are being acrobatic on
As you head into the main entrance at Harris…
…this guy is screaming at you:
If the grotesques look to be in immaculate shape, it’s thanks to a restoration program that began in 1986. At the time, many of the terra cotta figures had fallen into total disrepair (some had even smashed after falling from their perches).
Each figure was restored to its original condition, recast by hand, and returned to its place, at the time considered to be the largest terra cotta preservation effort in the country. You can see a bit of the process in this Facebook post – the picture below shows just how badly this particular figure had deteriorated (the white areas are the restored pieces that had broken off):
The replacements should weather the elements much longer than their predecessors.
These pictures show a mere 50 or 60 of the 1,000 grotesques and gargoyles covering the north quad at City College – and I didn’t even get into the cathedral-like Shephard Hall.
The campus is open to the public, and is absolutely worth a trip to admire these amazing works of art. If Hogwarts had a satellite campus in New York City, I’m pretty sure City College would be it.