by Kevin Walsh

285 Madison Avenue, at the NE corner of Madison Avenue and East 40th Street, looks like many other midtown NYC office buildings from the early 20th Century from across the street. It is the present NYC home of Young & Rubicam, the world’s biggest ad agency, and a former home of business info corpration Dun & Bradstreet.

Sure, it’s got some gargoylish spouts near the roofline, but you have to get up close to appreciate its true uniqueness.

Surrounding each of the picture windows on the Madison Avenue and East 40th (and on 41st, too, perhaps: I didn’t check) are faces; faces of ordinary people, faces of warriors, some brave, some venal, some foolish, some wise, some serious, some odd. We may imagine the architect was being playful in an age when playfulness of this type was permissible in architecture. Some may even be “easter eggs”, ie. perhaps the builder included some of the people he knew. But perhaps maybe, just maybe, the spirits of people who previously lived here invaded the sculptor’s hand, to preserve their likenesses for however long the building is here…

Architect; builder; woman with model of Capitol Building?

Crack shot; fronitersman

Gortons fisherman; lovely mermaid; Poopdeck Pappy

Two Indians, among many

Surveyor; blind newsie; painter

Pharmacist or vintner; guy tasting bad medicine; kid with slingshot

Walter Raleigh; Saracen; woman with stick

Tailor; tennis player; Viking with broken horn

Want more? Jim Lileks has a few more.

Special thanks to Vicki Metzger for showing your webmaster this building.