[Photos courtesy of Landmark Branding LLC.]
"I am sad to report," writes David Griffin of Landmark Branding, "that that the beautiful American Encaustic [Tile Company] Building at 16 East 41st Street has just had its landmark-worthy tile facade stripped. ... I am sickened at the loss of this urban gem." To give some context, the Historic Districts Council called this petite townhouse between Madison and Fifth avenues "one of the most important buildings in the history of American ceramics." The company was a major manufacturer of wall and floor tiles during the early part of the 20th century and, accordingly, in 1922 plastered mosaics and other colorful, tiled ornamentation across its front, which Griffin describes as "a unique arabesque of brilliantly colored tiles that drew upon interpretations of Greek and Byzantine architecture and showcased the brilliance of the company's artisans and designers." In his account of the building, the Times's Christopher Gray called it "a virtuoso rendition of the tilemaker's art." A virtuosic arabesque it might be, but the building failed to gain landmark status in 1993, and its unusual, beautiful facade has been slowly dismantled ever since.
According to Griffin, who checked out the demolition permits and photographed the remains of the facade, the tiles are probably gone for good since they were removed without care, and some fragments were left embedded.
[S]caffolding was erected in late March/early April of this year (as the buildings on either side have seen recent restoration and facade work, I personally assumed the building was being cleaned) and the tiles have been removed. All of the decorative facade has been pried off save for remnants of the beige stucco and a stylized chimera's head, which remains above the front door. ... We're keeping our fingers crossed that this is a restoration attempt, but it seems unlikely. Permits filed aren't for changes in egress, use, or occupancy. So this is just a sad cosmetic adjustment, viewed as a loss by many. Griffin has reached out to Vanguard Investors, which is listed as the building manager, to find out the state of the tiles?but hasn't heard back. Pretty sure it's time to say good-bye for good.
· Just Off Fifth: 16 E. 41st Street [Landmark Branding]
· 16 East 41st Street: American Encaustic Tile Company [Historic Districts Council]
· American Encaustic Tiling Company [Tiles in New York]