At the entrance of Delmonico’s on Beaver Street in Lower Manhattan, two marble columns seem out of place against the terracotta and brick structure. Reputedly, this pair of pillars was taken from Pompeii.
The exact facts are fuzzy, but story has long held that the columns were salvaged from the ruins of the Roman city destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and incorporated into a previous Delmonico’s restaurant that was subsequently ruined in the Great Fire of 1835.
The restaurant chain — started by two Swiss brothers in 1831 as a pastry shop — had expanded into ever more lavish dining establishments. Delmonico’s was the first in the city to offer printed menus and tablecloths, as well as private tables and solo dining for women. The building on Beaver Street in 1891 continued their stately profile. Designed by James Brown Lord, the Renaissance Revival building carefully took over a wedge-shape of land.
Whether or not the columns are really from Pompeii, they are symbolic of the history of New York. By claiming the columns as survivors of that ancient disaster, and pulling them out of the ashes of New York’s own devastating fire, Delmonico’s offered an icon of endurance.