by Kevin Walsh

There is an interesting building on Broadway and 31st Street by the el in Astoria. It appears to be two separate buildings, but that’s only because the right side has received an “update” and the Ionic pilasters and arched windows, lintels, etc have been stripped away. But that’s not what’s interesting…

This photo from the GAHS archives shows I’m all wet about the trim being stripped off.


The roof treatments on both sides of the building feature…


… caducei, or two snakes entwined around a staff. The symbol is associated with Hermes, the Greek messenger god (the Romans called him Mercurius) and it was generally found on commercial buildings from the 18th and early 19th Centuries. It was also used as a symbol for speed — a caduceus can be found on remaining stations or overpasses of the NY, Westchester and Boston Railroad in the Bronx, much of which is now the Dyre Avenue line (#5 train).

It’s a commonly made mistake equating the caduceus with the medical profession. In medicine the symbol is the Rod of Asclepius, which has one entwined snake, not two.



Yvonne Temann June 20, 2015 - 10:27 pm

Kevin, as always, you are the best when it comes to NYC trivia. Kudos!

AnthonyP June 22, 2015 - 4:14 pm

Are you sure it’s one building? It looks like the right side was built as an addition to a freestanding building on the left. This is based on two things:
1. The front wall on the right side is set back from the left (note the jog in the roofline and in the closeup of the left side windows)
2. The roof treatment is not symmetric. Note that it does not extend all the way to the right hand wall while it appears to wrap around the left wall, and how the left side before the jog is centered on that side of the building.

Brian Formoe June 23, 2015 - 7:07 pm

Because I love New York and your exceptional blog, I decided to take your building I.D. challenge. However, being located in Florida makes it decidedly more difficult. After finding 31st Street was previously Debevoise, I decided to go back and read your 2014 Astoria tour piece. Should have started there! An alternative address seems to be 31-85 31st Street and indeed there is a major entrance there.I wish I could figure out the building numbering system for this area to compare it to the “19 teens”, but the “New York Times” article referenced below has a school building at 85 Debevoise in 1907. This is earlier than the current 1921 listing, and the building seems a little small for 1630 seats, but it would be a possible tie-in for the cornice theme. I look forward to reading some additional scholarship and will keep hunting. Wish I could take the tour.
September 05, 1907 – – Print Headline: “38,955 NEW SEATS FOR SCHOOL PUPILS; Better Arrangements for the Housing of Students This Fall Than in Years. MOST CONTRACTS ON TIME 11,330 More Sittings Will Be Ready Later — Supt. Snyder Reports Means to Relieve Crowding. SCHOOL PRINCIPALS SHIFTED. One Who Aroused Christmas Exercise Discussion Gets New Place
Part of the above article says: “In Queens two large schools will not open until October. They are
N0. 85, Debevoise Avenue, Long Island City, with 1,630 seats, which will be ready on Oct. 12, and No. 68, Bergen Avenue, Evergreen, with 1,150 seats, which will open on Oct. 1.”

Brian Formoe June 24, 2015 - 12:02 am

Well, found the actual PS85, The Judge Charles J. Vallone School,on 31st. Although it appears of more recent vintage, it was construced in 1907 and is still in use. The search continues.

Brian Formoe June 24, 2015 - 10:51 pm

Still Intrigued. Here’s a pre-el picture from the Greater Astoria Historical Society. Note the trim doesn’t wrap the whole building.


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