“MOVIE Mike” Olshan, who has been with me on a number of Forgotten New York tours, sent me this detail at #315 Park Avenue South, at the southeast corner of East 24th, across the street from the Met Life tower. It’s a handsome 18-story office building constructed in 1911.
There are three bas reliefs above the second story windows, one on Park and the other two on East 24th, of a glowering bearded fellow, seemingly being eaten by a lion.
Who is this guy? It’s a cat named Hercules. In the classic myths, you probably remember that Hercules, the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, was the strongest man on earth, the Superman of his era. Hera, Zeus’ wife, despised Hercules and induced in him a mania that caused him to kill his wife and children. He was wracked by guilt and consulted the oracle at Delphi, who told him to surrender to the king of Mycenae, Eurystheus, and do whatever Eurystheus told him to do. The king set him to twelve tasks, or “labors,” most of which involved slaying monsters of one type or the other.
The first task was to get rid of an invulnerable lion that was causing havoc in the province of Nemea. In ancient Greece, lions did roam the Mediterranean although they were not invulnerable. After his arrows failed to fell the lion, Hercules got it in a chokehold and dispatched it in that manner.
Thus, on occasion, we see Hercules depicted in classic art as wearing a lion skin, which he affected as proof of his victory. No doubt, the builders of 315 Park Avenue South wished to show that the building was sturdy and strong, and indeed, it’s still there.
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