What's up with that?
Wed May 14 2008
Q I noticed that one of the shields on the abandoned building next to 6 East 43rd Street between Fifth and Madison has a swastika on it. What’s the history of the building?—Lindsay W.
A It’s not as ominous as you think. “That structure, built in 1916, was designed by Andrew J. Thomas—the same guy who designed the great garden-apartment complexes of Jackson Heights,” says Francis Morrone, author of The Architectural Guidebook to New York City. The seven-story edifice, first home to the Mehlin Piano company, is ornamented with religious symbols, one of which was obviously hijacked by the minions of national socialism. “No one should be alarmed to find swastikas in ornamentation,” says Morrone. “It’s one of the oldest and most universal symbols around, although meanings change across cultures. Swastikas appear on Germanic artifacts long before the days of the Nazis. As for this building, where the symbol is paired—as it often is—with a snake, I would imagine that the Mehlins directed the decorative scheme. Piano making was so strongly associated with Germans anyway that the ornamentation likely just underscores that.”