Famous New York Buildings, But They're Made of Gingerbread


Good day. It's Friday. Today we will see buildings and streets that smell as good as they look. We'll also learn the secrets of an 18-foot evergreen tree in Central Park that isn't just a Christmas tree..

More than 20 participants in a Christmas contest became little architects, structural engineers and construction workers, but they didn't need helmets, bricks and mortar. Our colleague Rose Adams explains:

In a room full of carefully crafted entries for the competition, you might recognize the main building of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Inspired by a 14th century French palace, its numerous wings surround a tower adorned with Gothic arches.

Only this version is made from gingerbread. Sonia Debek, a cancer researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine, spent nights and days off recreating the hospital. She baked foot-long pieces of gingerbread for the walls and made windows out of caramelized corn syrup and sugar. Her building is sealed and covered with at least five cups of royal icing. Whipping the frosting by hand was like an extra gym membership, she said.

Debek's replica is one of 23 gingerbread creations featured in “Gingerbread NYC: The Great Borough Bake-Off,” an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York through Jan. 15. The museum asked professional and amateur bakers to submit gingerbread designs that looked like “icons” throughout New York City.

They turned 685 pounds of gingerbread and more than 160 pounds of royal icing into everything from theater tents to baseball stadiums. Some participants recreated famous landmarks like 30 Rockefeller Plaza and the Brooklyn Bridge, but others recreated buildings that had meaning to them.

Debek, who moved to New York from Poland in the summer, decided to recreate the only building he knew well: the hospital complex across from the laboratory where he works.

“That was the building I liked the most,” he said.

Nishat Shahabuddin, an orthodontist, also chose a place with personal meaning. She spent about 100 hours in her parents' kitchen building a replica of 74th Street in Jackson Heights, an area she frequented as a child. Her model (on the left in the photo above) includes real tents alongside imaginary ones that reflect her Bangladeshi heritage.

Like many of the structures in the exhibit, its streetscape almost didn't survive a few wet days in November.

“Moisture is the nemesis, the kryptonite, of gingerbread houses,” said Stephanie Hill Wilchfort, museum director.

But by placing stacks of graham crackers inside some of his buildings, Shahabuddin was able to keep his roofs intact. Other bakers used Rice Krispies treats as internal reinforcements and melted gummy bears as cement.

With the right recipe and in dry conditions, gingerbread becomes sturdier over time. “It's over-baked,” said Arlene Chua, whose exhibit depicts the historic city of Richmond on Staten Island. “I actually have a gingerbread house that's two years old.”

The museum brought together a panel of famous bakers, including Bobbie Lloyd, CEO of Magnolia Bakery. They judged the creativity, durability and realism of each entry and awarded the “best overall” award to Patty Pops, a Pelham-based bakery whose replica of a Bronx building honored the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.

Some amateur bakers also took home prizes. The awards, Wilchfort said, were “bragging rights.”

But no matter how tempting the displays seemed, no one could take a bite, not even the judges.

“You can't eat gingerbread,” Wilchfort said. “No gingerbread was damaged in this process.”


It will be sunny with temperatures reaching 30 degrees. At night, temperatures will remain stable around 30 degrees.


Valid until December 25 (Christmas).

There is a tree in Central Park that many people assume is just a Christmas tree. It's more than that.

It's an 18-foot evergreen tree (a white cedar) that shines with hundreds of laminated photographs, ornaments and notes for deceased pets. It's a public display of love for furry, furry or finned friends: the Pet Memorial Christmas Tree.

There's Milo, remembered as “a good guy.” There's Sherman the Eastern Box Turtle, Geo the Fish, and Miss Parker the “brave, independent, and fun” Central Park squirrel.

It is decorated each year by a “tree keeper” and volunteers and is displayed between Thanksgiving and Three Kings Day in January, when volunteers remove the keepsakes and put them away for the upcoming holiday season. Dozens of new ones arrived last week when a group led by Central Park NYC's Ever Walk chapter, a group that promotes walking, walked up the Ramble to the tree.

As our colleague Aimee Ortiz pointed out, its location was kept secret for decades and remains largely unknown. You have to know where to look, or you have to find it by chance, like whoever baptized it did.

It already had decorations in 1986 when casting director Jason Reddock noticed it while walking his golden retriever, Beau. In an account of the tree and its history, writer and photographer Larry Closs said Reddock and Beau had returned the next day, this time with actress Nicki Gallas and her toy poodle, Gittel.

“Nicki noticed what Jason had noticed: 'There are dog toys in that tree!' – and I was equally delighted,” Closs wrote.

They returned the next day with their own decorations. “Since the tree was evergreen, and since Christmas was only a few weeks away, the couple decided it was a Christmas tree and thus the Pet Memorial Christmas Tree was born,” Closs wrote.

The tree's current keeper, Marianne Larsen, replaced Reddock about five years ago. She said part of her joy was discovering the tree.

“You'll walk by and say, 'What is that?'” he said, standing by the tree with his dog Ulla. “And if you take a moment to walk in, you'll see that it's a memorial tree, because some people think it's just a celebratory Christmas tree.”


Dear Diary:

A group of people were standing on a corner in the Flatiron district, all looking up at a tall, old building.

I asked a young woman in the crowd what everyone was looking at.

I don't know! she said.

I asked the same question to a middle-aged man nearby.

“I have no idea,” he said.

They both continued looking up.

– Felice Aull

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Submit submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

I'll be free next week, so happy holidays. See you here in 2024. — JB

PS Here's today's. Mini crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here..

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