Paterson NJ, Gordon Matta Clark, and the fire of 1910


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I snapped this picture at a red light, upon driving my car into downtown Paterson NJ recently … I don’t recall exactly what it was that caught my attention at the time that I took the picture, but afterwards I noticed this strange house-like discoloration of the bricks on the side of the Van Dyk Furniture Co. building. Scroll down for more …

Van Dyk Furniture Co building in Paterson NJ

At first, I thought it was kind of humorous, looking like someone peeled a house off of the side of this building, leaving this residue behind on the brick warehouse wall. It made me think of the artist Gordon Matta Clark, imagining that this related to one of his art projects, like the time he cut the side off of a house in Niagara Falls and titled it “Bingo,” (below top right), or the time he cut a house in half and titled it “Splitting” (below bottom right). But the appearance of this house silhouette would seem to have a darker history, if my research is correct.

Gordon Matta Clark projects Bingo and Splitting

In trying to find out more about this building, I stumbled upon a New York Times archives match to my search keywords that had a reproduction of an article printed on June 28, 1910. It mentions a fire starting in a show window at the Van Dyk Furniture store, spreading rapidly, and eventually the rescue of families from a “three story tenement next door.” Considering that the Van Dyk building seen above is three stories tall, and the peak of this home-shape nearly reaches the top of the brick building, could this be the only thing left marking the location of that tenement building?

Whether accurate or not, it makes for an interesting story, all from a random drive-by photograph. If you’re a Paterson native and have any info on this, please share in the comments below.

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