St. George Architect: Trashed Mosaic Was Dangerous

The Brooklyn Eagle picked up on BHB’s coverage of  the demolition of the St. George Hotel mural and comes back with this report:

Brooklyn Eagle: Mosiac at St. George…: Regardless of its historical value, however, the mosaic had to go, said the architect in charge of the work, Walter C. Maffei.

“The mural over the pool had a crack,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle Thursday. “It had to be removed for safety’s sake. The building insisted on it being removed.”

Mr. Maffei said that the mosaic had been “modified so much, there’s nothing left.” Besides the major crack, the structural backing is gone, he said. “It’s going to be replaced with a new wall.”

“It’s a way to protect people – a pre-emptive move to make the place secure and safe.”

CB2’s Robert Perris comments on Brownstoner:

I just got off the phone with the architect (on another issue). He informed me that the wall was unsafe and not salvagable. The mosaic will be reconstructed using new materials to match the original design, he told me.

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  • bornhere

    Allow me, first, to tell you what I know about damaged tile walls. Now that I’ve done that, I still find the explanation somewhere between high-handed and really?
    No one should have been put in harm’s way to preserve the threatening mural; I guess that explains the “danger” tape surrounding it in Benita’s beautiful pictures. Oh, wait — there was no tape. Whatever. But couldn’t there have been an effort to remove but SAVE the mural? There’s something almost brutally careless about the utter destruction of the wall (despite the “modifications,” also not visible in Benita’s pictures). And I KNOW this is not the end of the world; but it is the end of a piece of art that survived fire and rain over generations … but not someone’s thoughtlessness.
    (And nabe — when I got home from work last night, my son, whose senses of nostalgia and history are even more evolved than mine, presented me with a wonderful remnant he had retrieved earlier in the evening.)

  • The Where

    I hope this architect gets his AIA certification yanked.

  • nabeguy

    The mosaic definitely had a horizontal crack in it, as evidenced by Benita’s photos. But from the debris I observed, which demonstrates that the tiles were affixed to a solid wall of 3″ thick concrete that was attached to the brick of the superstructure, I find these claims dubious, at best. I don’t profess to being an architectural engineer, but even the smallest fragments I retrieved at 4″ square inches weigh a good 3/4 pound. Despite the crack (probably the result of repeated vibration from the subway) I doubt that this mural was in danger of imminent collapse.
    bh, glad you got your relic. From what I saw from the posts on Brownstoner in regards to this story, they seem to be much in demand.

  • benita berman

    Nabeguy – did you get the request of the webmaster from St. George Tower site re his wanting a piece of the mural? As you know, I want one as well, but I won’t be back in Brooklyn for at least 6 weeks. Perhaps, I could get it from you then. The claims of the architect are ridiculous as you can see from my pictures on my gallery site. The crack is most visible in the full views. I was told this weekend that it was coming down because it was unsightly. There was no mention of any “danger”

  • travy

    bullshit. it was just too costly to preserve…

  • Mickey

    I don’t understand what the architect means by “The building insisted on it being removed.” Did he talk to the building itself? He must have, because the building’s owners — The St. George Tower & Grill Owners Association — did not know about the issue over the mosaic until the article was published.

  • nabeguy

    Benita, I didn’t see that request from the Dragon Slayer, but as mentioned I tried to retrieve enough pieces for anyone interested. I’ve got them safely stored away, and will distribute them upon request once I can figure out the best way. I also saw a lot of interest on the Brownstoner blog from people looking for a chunk, so I may just set up a table at the Brooklyn Flea and give them away. I’ll keep you posted.

  • benita berman

    Hi, again, Nabeguy, glad you got my message re Dragon Slayer. I’ll be back in Brooklyn by June, so if you set up at the flea, please hold my piece for me. I’m sure DS will see your posts.

  • my2cents

    Guys…some of you are starting to sound like the folks who insisted that Terry Schiavo was not brain dead despite expert opinion and physical evidence to the contrary. You seem to take it as an article of faith the the mural was fine the way it was because anything else doesn’t fit your emotional story arc. If you inspect Benita’s photos closely, you can see numerous cracks all over the place, many of them repaired and touched up with colored paint to hide them over the years. This is apart from the main crack, which is enormous. Given the humidity, the age, and the subway’s proximity, I don’t think it is a stretch to believe that the architect is telling the truth. Maybe the mural was poorly installed originally? Who knows? Why must you assume the worst motives in people? It seems that now the whole story (which few bothered to wait to hear) is that they are taking it down and replacing it with an identical mosaic that will be structurally stable. And if you don’t think the new mosaic could ever be as well made as the original, I suggest you check out this website and see how impressive today’s ceramics can be:
    I applaud Nabeguy’s nice idea of giving away fragments at the brooklyn flea. i am a sentimental sap, too you know. I just thing this particular mural thing is a tempest in a teapot.

  • benita berman

    The day that I was there to take pictures, I was told that the mural was coming down because it was unsightly . They had repaired it in the past but they were not able to fix the cracks, particularly the large one, even though it was not falling down. It’s nice that they are now talking about replacing it with a new version.

  • nabeguy

    Truce my2. I’m not sure where the Schiavo reference came from but your point is taken. The most encouraging thing is hearing that they plan to replace the mosaic. Hopefully, they’ll look into the Bisazza site. Looks pricey, but definitely high quality work…and even I’ll admit they could do a better job than the original.

  • bornhere

    I differ with some of you in that I don’t have the slightest interest in what they replace the mural with: my “historic loyalty” is not at all to EAC or how they choose to “festoon”; what bothers me is that an original, that possibly could have been preserved elsewhere, was wrecked. As far as waiting to hear the whole story, it seemed that the report revealed that the mural would be replaced with “a new wall”; I didn’t read that as a reincarnation of the original design. And of course there are beautiful ceramic tiles available today, and probably beyond-gifted muralists. For me, that wasn’t the point. But, it is what it is.

  • benita berman

    It’s unfortunate that an original piece of Art Deco art was sneakily destroyed. Let’s not justify it by saying it’s OK to replace it with a new wall made with newly produced tiles. It surely did not look as it had when first installed but the key word here is “original”. In art, originally is valued and making a copy is not, even though the copy might be “decorative”. Decoration is not Art, even if it is attractive. If you have to repair an original you do the best you can to retain the artist’s hand, not paint over the whole thing an bring in some modern artist to paint a new one. Thank you, bornhere, for your comments.