Our favorite film location scout, the brains behind the Scouting NY blog, was driving north on Broadway in northern Manhattan when he spotted a marble archway covered in graffiti, sandwiched by auto body shops on either side. Nick Carr did a bit of fruitful digging, and discovered that the arch at 215th Street is a somewhat worse for the wear remnant of a 1855-built estate that used to sit in Inwood's hills. Now it's almost hidden amid street-side car repair businesses to its front and dense housing developments behind, but Carr figured out what the arch—actually a to-scale model of Paris' Arc de Triomphe—looked like in its heyday as a grand entranceway to a sprawling mansion.
Carr captured what it's like to drive north on Broadway today...
... but back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, you would drive north on Broadway only to find the opulent entrance to a hilltop residence called the Seaman-Drake Estate.
Another shot of the view you get today, showing the arch relegated to the status of a graffiti canvas, stuck behind car dealerships and the like.
Meanwhile, 100 years ago, all you could see from the road was the arch, an expanse of hillside, and the mansion perched at the top. The elder Seaman invented the smallpox vaccine, and his affluent son built the ornate, cupola-filled white marble house. The mini Arc was supposed to serve as a stunning first impression. Both the arch and the house were allegedly made from white marble extracted from a nearby quarry. After some more interesting history, the estate was razed in 1938 to make way for a 400-unit housing complex called Park Terrace Gardens, which stands to this day.
The arch, however, survived. And despite its dilapidated condition, it remains appealing. It's also, apparently, the only one of its kind outside of Washington Square Park.
You can see parts of the arch's leg embedded within a greasy car repair shop, coming in through the ceiling, but you can also take a walk back through its center for a peek inside. The juxtaposition of the arch and its surroundings has attracted many a curious journalist, history buff, and architecture nerd.
Since part of the roof is gone, you get this idyllic view, with the square window and the overgrown vines. And with a little imagination, and willful ignorance of the brown apartment complex outside, you could almost picture yourself waltzing into the old Seaman-Drake estate.
· How A Beautiful 19th-Century Marble Archway In Manhattan Became An Auto Body Shop [Scouting NY]
· The Old Seaman Mansion [My Inwood]
· Seaman-Drake Arch [My Inwood]
· Seaman-Drake Arch; Encrusted Relic of a Mid-19th-Century Inwood Estate [NYT]
· More Scouting NY coverage [Curbed]