The Big Duck.

The Big Duck

Field review by the editors.

Flanders, New York

The people of Long Island love the Big Duck -- or so we're told. The odd-shaped building, on the eastern end near the Hamptons, is one of the few good examples of roadside architecture within easy driving distance of New York City (next closest is Lucy the Elephant, down in Margate, New Jersey). Hence all the attention the Duck gets in any book or article written about wacky structures along America's highways.

In 1931, Riverhead duck farmer Martin Maurer built this 20-ft. tall, 30-ft. long eye-catcher using concrete (technically, "ferrocement") applied over a wooden frame. Taillights from a Model T Ford became its eyes, glowing red at night. Maurer sold ducks and eggs from the shop in its belly.

Vintage view.

Maurer drew his inspiration from odd structures he had seen in California, especially a building shaped like a giant coffee pot. Shrewdly, Maurer patented his fowl creation, and the Duck became the darling of vacationing New Yorkers -- particularly husband and wife architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, who coined the term "duck architecture" in their 1972 book "Learning From Las Vegas." This explain why, in the world of architecture, any building shaped like its product is called a "duck." Not a "coffeepot."

Big Duck at Christmas time.
Big Duck at Christmas time.

Maurer is long dead, and the Big Duck has shifted locale a few times. When the land was earmarked for development, giant duck preservationists and the Friends for Long Island's Heritage campaigned to save it. The owners donated the Big Duck to Suffolk County in 1987. In 1988 it moved from Flanders to Hampton Bays along Route 24 at the entrance of Sears-Bellow County Park. By 2007 it was clear that the original land would not be developed, so the Big Duck was moved four miles back to its original spot.

The shop still operates -- now as a tourism center for the East end of Long Island, selling duck souvenirs to flocks of city weekend-trippers. There's occasionally been talk of opening a Duck Museum or even a Duck Farm as a companion attraction, but the Big Duck itself remains a steady draw.

Each year, (the first Wednesday in December) the Suffolk County Parks Department sponsors the Annual Holiday Lighting of the Big Duck the first Wednesday after Thanksgiving. Local school children sing "Duck" carols, and warm refreshments including hot chocolate, cookies and doughnuts are served. Visitors join in singing the duck carols while awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus, transported by the Flanders Fire Department. Once Santa arrives, the switch is flipped and the Big Duck lights up for all to see.

The Big Duck

1012 Flanders Rd, Flanders, NY
I-495/Long Island Expressway, Exit 71. Turn right at CR-94 East/Edwards Ave/RT-24 East for 4.3 mi. At traffic circle, take the 3rd exit onto Flanders Rd/RT-24 East 2.4 mi. Duck is on the left.
Daily 10-5 (Call to verify)
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
Big Tiki Photo-Op, Montauk, NY - 37 mi.

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May 20, 2019

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