Thursday, September 17, 2009

Old Penn Station Eagle Gets New Perch

Following article is from The New York Times for Friday, 9-11-09.

September 11, 2009

New Aerie for a Penn Station Eagle

By Jennifer 8. Lee

One of the eagles from the old Pennsylvania Station has been installed at the new Cooper Union building in the East Village.

Twenty-two stone eagles once perched on the old Pennsylvania Station building before it was demolished in the early 1960s, in what The New York Times called "a monumental act of vandalism." (The debate over the station got a shout-out on "Mad Men" a few weeks ago.) The eagles were each five feet tall, with wingspans that measured more than 70 inches, and weighed about 5,700 pounds.

The destruction of Penn Station unfolded before the city's landmarks law was enacted, so preservation-minded New Yorkers rushed to save what elements of the McKim, Mead & White building that they could: granite balusters, leather stools, Corinthian columns.

Among those involved in the salvage was a group of students from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, who successfully petitioned the Pennsylvania Railroad for one of the eagles, in part because the artist behind the station's stonework, Adolph Weinman, had graduated from Cooper Union in 1891.

For almost a decade, the eagle was kept at Cooper Union camp property in Ringwood, N.J. When the college sold the property in 1973, it moved the eagle to the courtyard of a building on Third Avenue in the East Village. But when Cooper Union began planning a new academic building at 41 Cooper Square, the building where the eagle stood was among those to be sold.

What, then, to do with the eagle?

"Clearly moving a 5,700-pound eagle is a problem in two ways: One, you have to move it. Two, you have to find a place for it," said Ronni Denes, a spokeswoman for Cooper Union. "Where are you going to put it?"

As part of that process, the eagle was appraised at $200,000. The appraiser also reported that 14 of the original 22 eagles still exist, three of them in the city. The other two flank the entrance to the present Penn Station at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue. Other eagles are scattered in various locales: the Market Street Bridge in Philadelphia, Valley Forge Military Academy in Valley Forge, Pa.; Hampden-Sydney College in Hampden-Sydney, Va.; and the National Zoo in Washington.

When and if the train station is resurrected in the James A. Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue, those eagles could perhaps resume their watch over its travelers.

There was no indoor space for the eagle at Cooper Union. So instead workers looked outside and found a much higher perch: on the green roof on the eighth floor. So in June, workers moved the eagle, protected with padding, to the base of the new building. Then a crane lifted the eagle and placed it on the roof, where it is visible from several classrooms.

The eagle's orientation? Toward Penn Station, of course.