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The Bat Signal Is Lit!

The oddest request I’ve received in quite some time came via twitter (click through to see the whole story):

In short, the building at 9-11 East 40th Street has some strange things on one side facade. From a tweet in the thread, here’s a view of the west wall:

The original roof was at the 12th floor, where the big cornice is (and where the architectural style changes). The question concerns the brick protrusions on the side. As I replied to the tweet, an internet diagnosis isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, but I’ll give it a shot.

The original building was a fairly typical steel-frame office building of the early twentieth century. (One source says 1913, which sounds about right. It could easily be five years earlier or later.) As described below, at some time between 1923 and 1930, six more stories were added. It’s worth looking at the maps… 1910, two houses on the site at 9 and 11 East 40th Street:

The Brook was founded in 1903 and this appears to have been its first home. I’m going to focus a bit on that building at 7 East 40th, as well. Here’s a 1904 or 5 view fo the street facades:

The future site of 9 East 40th is the house on the right with the mansard roof; the Brook is the white building in the center. It looks like 7 (the Brook) and 5 (far left) East were a matched pair before McKim Mead & White altered 7 East for club use. Note that 7 East is, by modern standards, 4-1/2 stories tall, with four full floors above the basement entry level. Here’s 1916:

9 and 11 East 40th have been replaced by the original 12-story office building. Yale & Towne was a manufacturing company, best known for Yale locks. The 1923 map is much the same except that the Brook seems to have swallowed up 12 and 14 East 41st Street, behind its original building:

The Brook moved to its current home on 54th Street in 1925, freeing up 7 East 40th Street. Here’s the 1930 map:

Note that 7 East is now only three stories, and 9-11 East has grown to 18 stories. Are those two changes related? If we look at the street facades today, 7 East has been altered to match 9-11 East:

(And you can see the base of the things above 7 East’s roof.)

Based on this partial evidence, here’s my theory: the things are supplemental steel framing to strengthen the 1913 building to allow it to carry the additional floors. This supplemental steel is encased in brick for fire- and weather-proofing, and is on the 7 East lot, so it could only be built by gutting the old 7 East building. The biggest problem with this theory is that there is not corresponding supplemental steel on the east side wall of 9-11 East, but given that the elevators are on the east side, the framing there may be denser.

Or I could be wrong.