Thursday, October 30, 2014
A quixotic quest worthy of a real-estate
For the past six years, William D. McCracken, [a] 39-year-old real-estate lawyer, has been combing both sides of every street in Manhattan in a quest to document the dated, inscribed rocks that serve as birth certificates for buildings. By foot and on bike, often accompanied by his Labradoodle named Martin, Mr. McCracken has amassed an online archive of the island’s 1,100-plus surviving cornerstones. (See some on an interactive map.)
Mr. McCracken’s search has gotten tougher as the venerable cornerstone is abandoned by developers. The load-bearing stones have largely gone the way of the flying buttress since the postwar advent of reinforced concrete and steel-frame construction. The walls of such buildings are often hung from above. [...]
Historically, a building in New York City rose in relation to its cornerstone, with facade walls aligned in reference to the rock. The block typically bore a date and often a message. “Jesus Christ Himself Being the Chief Cornerstone” was big in the 1880s and 1890s.
Ceremonies and parades accompanied cornerstone-layings, often led by Freemasons who sprinkled a rock with corn and anointed it with wine and oil to represent plenty, refreshment and joy. Dignitaries made speeches and wielded trowels.
“It’s a noble tradition that enriches the experience of city life, but it’s gotten almost completely forgotten,” says Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture and lead designer of 15 Central Park West, a condominium building which has a cornerstone, and several other New York luxury condos which don’t.