Replica WWI British Fighter Plane Sits on Roof of Downtown Office Building


New York City is full of fun secrets, like speakeasy bars and hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and today, the Wall Street Journal uncovered another hidden treasure. It turns out that The William Kaufman Organization, which owns a number of buildings in Manhattan, has tried to make its otherwise bland properties more fun for the neighbors by creating public arts projects. The roof of the 26-story office tower at 77 Water Street is adorned with a mysterious biplane parked on a landing strip complete with runway lights.

The organization commissioned Rudolph de Harak to design the model 1916 British Sopwith Camel, and then William Tarr constructed it. In 1969, the plane was lifted onto the roof with a crane.

When the Wall Street Journal asked the organization’s president, Robert Kaufman, why they went to the trouble of installing a plane on the roof of their offices, he answered, “You can’t just impose these buildings and ignore the people that have to look at them,” and later added, “It’s very satisfying when you do something that people so appreciate.”

This plane isn’t the only embellishment on a building developed by The William Kaufman Organization; on the plaza below 77 Water Street, the organization constructed a fully operational turn-of-the-century penny candy shop, and at 127 John Street, the organization decorated with a tile mural depicting a cat chasing a canary. The John Street building was sold 10 years ago, but The William Kaufman Organization’s mark remains.