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The Met: 1902

The Met: 1902

New York circa 1902. "Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Fifth Avenue addition to the original 1874 structure nearing completion. The pyramids of rough-hewn limestone blocks in the Beaux-Arts cornice, intended to serve as the basis for four sculptural groups, remain unfinished to this day. View full size.


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Pyramids and pickets

Lived in New York for over 40 years, and I never noticed the unfinished stone blocks above the pillars.

Also, how about that wooden fence? Would be a rare sight today if you could spot a wooden picket fence anywhere in Manhattan.

Lots of real estate.

What I find most amazing about this photograph isn't that there's nothing behind the museum -- I didn't know until I looked it up that it's actually in Central Park -- but that there's nothing across the street at what I assume is the corner of E 83rd Sreet and Fifth Avenue. As a non-New-Yorker, in my mind the city has always been wall-to-wall buildings.

There's a Point

There's a point when something stops being a "mistake" or a "bug" and turns into a "feature." I would suggest that to people who are used to the appearance of the place would be opposed to completing the unfinished stone carving. They've become a "feature" of the building.

Speaking of Earthquakes

The "unfinished" piles of stones have to be finished in some way. How?
New York could experience the same kind of earthquake that Washington DC did. There must be something more than gravity holding them in place. Just one of those blocks falling would really cause problems.

Stonecutting today

There are in fact carvers at work down at Washington National Cathedral replacing the various pieces that were broken in the earthquake.

Finish the job

I'm of two minds about the stone piles. On the one hand, it's an amusing historical story about how such a grand building could have four piles of unfinished stones, so might as well leave it to preserve the history.

On the other hand, there is a certain romance in allowing modern sculptors to finish the job started by their artistic ancestors, who no doubt cringed whenever they saw their unfinished beauty. It would tie together generations in a relatively unique way. I think it would be a great conclusion to a long story.

Not that NY probably has the money now to finish the job. Same story, different century.


Unfortunately with the passing of time I'd doubt that there are many stone cutters left that are capable of transforming those rough blocks into the planned sculptures. Another lost art.

Merry Christmas Shorpy.


When were those front entry steps changed. What a difference from 1904 to today!

Thanks, Swein. Very subtle changes.

The sculptures

There's a very simple reason why the sculptures weren't finished. The short version: money ran out, and it was the middle of the depression of 1893 to 1897. Today, it's a fun curiosity. I hope they are never finished!

michaeljunkbox - it doesn't look *quite* the same. The stairs were greatly enlarged to wrap around the entrance, and the setback by the flanking columns were filled in, creating pseudo balcony areas.


That pair of lampposts flanking the entrance are now in the American wing courtyard, they're beautiful.

Looks the same today

Looks the same today

Far Out

It looks like it’s out in the country.


I'm looking forward to the story behind the 'unfinished' sculptures. There are so many interesting stories behind the design and history of landmark buildings. I'm sure the Head of the Arkie Department at C.U. would have liked this building, he was a product of the Beaux-Arts School. In the meantime, there are two baby carriages visible; the one on the right looks almost modern, the one on the left is a much older design I'd guess. Excellent photo, a bit more traffic today, I'd reckon.
BTW, regarding the stones? I agree with Brent. He's correct; it's part of the building's history and charm.

Another winter vestibule?

The very ornate wood and glass structure at the front the main entry is another "temporary" vestibule we've seen before?
Pretty fancy for something put up for only 3-4 months a year.

Yes, the stone remains unfinished.

But it is on the to-do list. It's just that the Staff all came down with the flu in 1904, and it put everything back a few decades.

Fire the stonecutters

My first impression when seeing this picture was, "Boy, that pile of stone blocks on the columns is sure shoddy workmanship. They all look haphazard and badly cut."

Then I re-read the caption, and I saw that the building was unfinished, and figured they were still cutting and aligning. But then looking at the modern view, that was pretty much how they left it, and it looks even worse today.

So I suppose my question is... was that an artistic architectural statement, or did they just do a crummy job?

the facade as planned

Here's a drawing showing the planned sculptures.

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