Village View Trivia

The Village Gargoyles

Text and photo by Brian J. Pape AIA.

Have you spotted the location of this gargoyle creature perched on a Village building?

Gargoyles have a fascinating history. In addition to the practical function of projecting water from gutters away from a building, gargoyles were also intended to symbolize ‘guardianship’ of the building and to ward off evil spirits. Their open mouths were symbolic of them devouring giants. The earliest forms of gargoyle were found in Ancient Egyptian architecture and were typically in the form of a lion’s head. Some of the features that would typically be depicted by gargoyles include ugly human faces, animals, mythical and imaginary creatures, anthropomorphized creatures and chimeras (those combining several animals).

Gargoyles have come to be commonly associated with the Gothic and Medieval architecture from the Middle Ages. Gargoyles were included in the construction of many medieval buildings, such as fortresses and castles, and especially churches and cathedrals. In an ornamental form, they were revived by the Art Deco period in the early-20th century, most notably on midtown’s  Chrysler Building.

Do you know where it is?

TRIVIA ANSWER: Vaux and Withers Architects (architects for the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art) designed the Jefferson Market Courthouse in 1874 in the High Victorian Gothic style, and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1977, as “one of the City’s most remarkable buildings.”  Located at the intersection of West 10th Street and Sixth Avenue, its polychrome materials – red brick, black stone, white granite, yellow sandstone trim and variegated roof slates- include sets of limestone gargoyles in numerous spots around the roofs. The decorative ornaments do not spout rainwater, but they remain powerful symbols of an exuberant era. Thank the community activists who denied demolition when it no longer served courthouse functions in 1945.