I just solved a mini mystery. On Monday, I was surprised by the Mexican or Central American-inspired gargoyles at 787 11st Ave. in New York and was wondering if there was something in the building’s history would explain them. Turns out I solved the mystery without even trying. I was reading about the history of New York City skyscrapers in an American Art and Architecture book, and I learned that architects devise the familiar “stepped” style of skyscraper to adhere to 1916 NYC zoning laws, and the similarities between this new design and ancient Mayan temples, combined with the fact that those temples were beginning to be studied in this period, led to a fashion for “neo-Mayan” details on skyscrapers. 787 11th Ave. isn’t a skyscraper, but it was clearly following the same fashion and was probably built in the ’20s when neo-Mayan decorations were popular.

Source: Lewis, Michael J. American Art and Architecture. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd., 2006. 225 (note for fig. 195).