Alwyn Court is a massive, French Renaissance-style building at 7th Avenue and West 58th Street constructed in the first decade of the 20th Century, that at first consisted of several huge apartments built for “country folk who live in the city.” It suffered a devastating fire shortly after it opened, and in the 1930s its large dwellings were subdivided into smaller apartments. The maginificent terra cotta work, fired by Atlantic Terra Cotta, a former plant in Tottenville, Staten Island, remains for the most part.
The full story of Alwyn Court is told by the ever-reliable Daytonian in Manhattan.
I was struck by what appear to be fire-breathing dragons above the front door. These are actually stylized representations of salamanders. Real ones are small-to mid-sized amphibians which resemble lizards but are soft to the touch and spend some of their time in the water, like their amphibian cousins the frogs. In the medieval period, salamanders got the reputation of being able to survive fire and in fact, it was believed that they had the ability to extinguish fire. They became heavily represented on royal crests and other ornamentation, and Alwyn Court terra cotta carvers took license with the creatures, giving them claws and showing fire coming out of their mouths.