“Night and Day”: Vestiges of a Lost Penn Station

September 24, 2015
Credit: Hany Hassan

When Penn Station opened in 1910, it was recognized as one of the most magnificent public spaces in New York City and in America. It was a classical masterpiece, inspired by the Baths of Carcalla, grandiose in scale, and rich in ornamental details including columns, coffers, pilasters, elaborate cornices, and beautiful carved statuary.

Artist Adolph Alexander Weinman was commissioned to carve four pairs of allegorical statues portraying day and night. Inspired by classical beauty and famous early 20th-century model Audrey Munson, each majestic pair flanked large clocks and graced the central portico of each of the building’s façades. The building, infamously demolished in 1963, is considered one of the greatest architectural losses of the twentieth century. What of the fate of the statues – were they lost as well?

In 1968, five years after demolition, Eddie Hausner of The New York Times photographed “Day” lying dismantled and jumbled in a landfill in Secaucus, New Jersey. One single image captured the catastrophic sense of loss felt by the city. That a sculpture with such artistic and historic significance should end up in this place was heartbreaking. Architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable wrote, “Tossed into that Secaucus graveyard were about twenty-five centuries of classical culture and the standards of style, elegance, and grandeur that [Penn Station] gave to the dreams and constructions of western man. That turned the Jersey wasteland into a pretty classy dump.”

Something had to be done. New Jersey Commissioner of Conservation and Economic Development, Robert Roe, upon seeing the Hausner photograph, launched a team to salvage the statues. They were initially transported to Ringwood State Park in Passaic County, NJ where they continued to rest, exposed, though in more congenial surroundings. It was here that Partner Hany Hassan was inspired to draw a sketch, capturing the beauty and solitude of “Day”.

A call to the curator at Ringwood State Park and some internet searches reveal that the statues have been further distributed. A statue of “Night” stands in the Brooklyn Museum, and a pair of the statues has been reused to create the Eagle Scout Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. Plans to incorporate two of the statues into the Broad St. Station in Newark never materialized, and finally, several of the statues were given to the Penn Station Redevelopment Corporation in 1998.

Since then, there have been stories of other sculptural artifacts from Penn Station surfacing in places across the country. They are the scattered vestiges of a lost Penn Station and reminders for us to take pride in and protect our architectural heritage with more care.