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A Stoked Hearth
By Carter Horsley   |   From Behind The Buildings Thursday, December 20, 2007
In the days before environmental concerns became widespread, it was not unusual to see large puffs of black smoke rising from incinerators in the city's apartment buildings.

Nowadays, such flagrant pollution of the air is rare in the city, thanks, no doubt, to the wonders of recycling.

Smaller puffs of gray smoke, however, are sometimes discernible from chimneys in buildings with wood-burning fireplaces -- perhaps the most desirable apartment amenity.

In some cases, roofs may have a large chimney or two with multiple flues. In others, there are individual mini-chimneys, often with domed caps.

While the city has no equal to the great French Renaissance chimneys of the royal Chateau de Chambord in France, it does have a few that are notable.

Perhaps the most impressive sits atop the great Crown Building, erected by August Heckscher and designed by Warren & Wetmore in 1921, on the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. Its cylindrical shape is gilded and very ornamental, and it is all the more interesting because it is not atop the office building's great pyramidal roof, fitted with numerous oculi, but at the southwest base of the pyramidal roof.

A more visible chimney is at the pinnacle of the Carlyle Hotel on the northeast corner of Madison Avenue at 76th Street. The chimney, shown above from the northwest, is unusual in that its relatively thin, black "pipe" extends upward, almost halfheartedly and sneakily, just over the prominent gilded "bump" on the building's crown.

One of the city's great skyline buildings, though it has been dwarfed by some nearby towers, is the 37-story Hampshire House at 150 Central Park South. Noted for its spectacular, steeply pitched copper roof, the building has two tall chimneys that hearken to those atop the Savoy Plaza Hotel, which formerly occupied the site of the General Motors Building on Fifth Avenue.

Even humble chimneys are a comforting sign that some people in the city can be warmed by a stoked hearth, an image perhaps not as merry as Santa Claus but very cheery nonetheless.

This article was previously published by the New York Sun.

Architecture Critic Carter Horsley Since 1997, Carter B. Horsley has been the editorial director of CityRealty. He began his journalistic career at The New York Times in 1961 where he spent 26 years as a reporter specializing in real estate & architectural news. In 1987, he became the architecture critic and real estate editor of The New York Post.