Before New York’s tallest towers were sheathed in glass, they were clad in clay. Terra-Cotta, or “fired earth,” is an ancient building material made of baked clay, that helped make New York a Modern city. At the turn of the 20th century, terra-cotta became a sought-after fire-proof skin for the steel skeletons of the city’s tallest buildings. Though you’ll find it on some of New York’s most iconic structures, including the Flatiron Building, The Woolworth Building, and the Plaza Hotel, terra-cotta often hides in plain sight, mimicking other materials like granite or carved wood. On this tour of Lower Manhattan, we’ll uncover some of city’s earliest terra-cotta structures. Along the way, we’ll see the tallest terra-cotta structure in the world and find out how this stunningly versatile material moved from monochrome to multi-colored, and helped shift the city from Beaux-Arts beauty to Art Deco splendor!
We'll start with the Terra Cotta tableau along the old "Newspaper Row." There, we'll see how the Potter Building revolutionized building design in New York, and how Orlando Potter became the father of New York Terra Cotta. Just a block away, we'll see the how Morse family got inventive with fired earth! Then we'll bask in the glory of the Woolworth Building, and see how Cass Gilbert's great Cathedral of Commerce is the most impressive terra cotta building in the world. From there we'll make our way down broadway checking out how different forms of terra cotta - buildings and decorations - both colorful and monochrome, changed the landscape of New York!