RPJ’s New York: The 23rd Street Station Hat Mosaics
As New York City comes back to life, we are reviving our non-legal series about the neighborhood and city that RPJ inhabits and loves.
Those of us who have ridden the subway to RPJ’s Madison Avenue offices in the past two years have taken advantage of a less crowded station and longer wait times to contemplate the fascinating mosaics that populate the walls of the R and W stop on 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue. The work, entitled Memories of 23rd Street by graphic artist Keith Godard, was installed in 2002. It consists of 120 separate tile hats, each identified by the name of the celebrity who wore it. According to Godard, who died in May of 2020, he chose notables who would have frequented the neighborhood between 1880 and 1920, when the area was a center of vaudeville and ladies’ fashion.
The hats celebrate some familiar names such as Oscar Wilde, Scott Joplin and Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as those whose fame has proven less enduring, such as pioneering photographer Gertrude Kasebier and poet and anarchist Sadakichi Hartmann. The hats are placed at the approximate height of the individual wearer, leading, for example, to a large gap between the headwear of circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum and one of his main attractions, General Tom Thumb.
Besides being a tribute to the neighborhood’s colorful millinery heritage, the mosaics provide an entertaining way to while away the wait times for the R train. As Godard stated in the MTA Arts and Design Guide, his work can “serve as an interactive, playful and witty landmark. As a diversion, passengers waiting for the subway train might try to picture people on the opposite platform ’wearing‘ the hats they are standing beneath.”
Written by RPJ Partner Alice K. Jump, who practices in litigation and dispute resolution, employment, real estate and infrastructure law.