We’ve been pretty obsessed with rats recently, from our look into the history of the inflatable union rat, to the permanent bronze union rat sitting at Lever House, to our frequent reference to Robert Sullivan’s great NYC book, Rats.
The next time you pass by the Graybar Building at Grand Central Terminal, be sure to look up. At first glance, the canopy above the entrance to the building looks rather ordinary–but if you look close enough, there are actually three miniature rat sculptures on the canopy’s support rods. The sculpted rats are depicted as if they are climbing the anchor ropes on a ship, a quirky reference to New York’s maritime roots.
The rats were explored previously by Forgotten NY, who quoted the New York Times’ Meyer Berger:
“The rat-and-hawser motif is there to symbolize a ship and, in turn, a port. The rat on the hawser, baffled by the rat-guard, is trying to get into the ship. The circle of rat heads on the side of the hawser typify the rats IN the ship.You will see some grasshoppers in the design, too, because, as in the song, ‘Grasshoppers stand upon the railroad track.’ And, too, you will see a number of albatrosses–birds of the sea–carved here and there.”
We didn’t find any grasshoppers on the Greybar building, we spotted an albatross sitting in the hands of what appears to be Poiseidon, the God of the Sea in Greek mythology.
At the time of Graybar Building’s completion in 1927, New York was a busy transportation hub and seaport. Architects Sloan & Robertson thought it was fitting to design the Art Deco skyscraper with maritime embellishments, and someone in the firm had suggested rats. Besides the climbing rat sculptures, there are also intricately-carved rat heads in the rosettes. It is suspected that these nautical decorations also point to the shipping and distribution services of the Graybar company.
According to 1000 Things NYC, one of the rat sculptures went missing at some point throughout the Graybar Building’s history. But when the structure was restored in 2000, there were special instructions to “replace the missing rat.”
We further explored the entrance of the Graybar Building from the inside of Grand Central and unearthed some more interesting finds. Although not maritime-centric, the building’s art displayed creatures like eagles, serpents and horses.
According to a plaque on the inside of the building, the name ‘Graybar’ is derived from the names of Professor Elisha Gray and Mr. Enos Barton who founded the firm of Gray and Barton in 1869. Their modest business of manufacturing and selling electrical communication devices grew into the organization incorporated on January 1, 1926, The Graybar Electric Company. The company claimed the naming rights to the building by signing an initial nineteen year lease and purchasing some bonds to finance the art deco structure. By 1982, the business was forced to move its headquarters to Clayton, Missouri due to internal company problems and a weak economy.
Today, the Graybar Building continues to stand as a commercial office building. In addition to housing companies such as New York Life Insurance Company and Spectrum News, the building also includes an Equinox gym and a deli often frequented by working professionals.
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