“Twenty stories above 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue, atop the Flatiron Building, two pouty cherubs once again watch over the city.
When the Flatiron was built, in 1902, its top was adorned with the cherubs, sculptured in terra cotta. But 13 years ago, the figures disappeared.
”There was a frankfurter guy here on the corner,” recalled Sonny Atis, the building’s superintendent. ”The thing started falling down on him in pieces. The old super went up there and started pulling down all the loose chunks with his hands.”
Last week installation of a replica of the sculpture began. It is scheduled to be completed this week. But no one seems to know where the fragments of the original are.
A few years after the sculpture vanished, Miriam Berman and Jerzy Koss, longtime residents of the Flatiron area, complained to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which issued a notice requiring that the owners of the building put back the sculpture or replace it.
James Kuhn, president of Newmark & Company Real Estate, an owner of the Flatiron since 1997, said he did not know what happened to the fragments. ”When we bought the building, it was already gone,” he said of the sculpture.
The reproduction was designed by Betty Martin, who modeled her work on what she called a ”bad photograph” from the 1920’s. Ms. Martin, a theatrical set designer and painter of what she called ”rich people’s rooms,” said she ”banged out” 6,000 pounds of clay in eight weeks. The piece was cast in concrete by Towne House Restoration.”
Ms. Martin’s cherubs appear 7 or 8 years old, slightly more mature than their predecessors, which were baby-faced. As before, the pieces flank a shield decorated with fleurs-de-lis. The identity of the original sculptor is a mystery. Neither the owners of the building nor the landmarks commission, which designated the Flatiron as a landmark in 1966, knows who the artist was.
Ms. Berman and Mr. Koss like the replacement but rue the loss of the original.
”When they took it out, it was like a wound,” Mr. Koss said, speculating that the fragments were discarded, ”moved to a garbage dump.”
Ms. Berman had another idea. ”I’m sure it’s in some backyard somewhere,” she said.
(Photographs by Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)