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've been told. The odd-shaped building, on the Island's east end near the Hamptons, is one of the few examples of roadside architecture within driving distance of New York City vacationers (The 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 commissioned some local builders to create this 30-ton 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 invented 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 "coffee pot."

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

Maurer is long dead, and the Big Duck -- 30 feet long, 20 feet high, and 18 feet wide -- has shifted locale a few times. In the 1980s, when the land on which the Duck sat was earmarked for development, giant duck preservationists and the Friends for Long Island's Heritage campaigned to save it. The Duck was donated to the county. On January 27, 1988, it was moved from Flanders to Hampton Bay along Route 24, to the entrance of Sears-Bellow County Park. However, by 2007 it was clear that the original land would not be developed, so the Big Duck was moved four miles back to its Flanders 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

Address:
1012 Flanders Rd, Flanders, NY
Directions:
I-495/Long Island Expy exit 71. Turn right at NY-94/Edwards Ave. for a little over four miles. At the traffic circle, take the third exit onto NY-24/Flanders Rd. Drive 2.5 miles. Duck is on the left.
Hours:
Daily 10-5 (Call to verify)
Phone:
631-852-3377
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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December 7, 2019

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