Kennedy Airport statues gather dust amid push for restoration
When JFK was president and Idlewild the airport, the futuristic Pan Am Worldport and its grand entrance symbolized the possibilities of flight.
Almost as eye-catching were the 12 large bronze zodiac sculptures hanging outside from the flying-saucer-shaped terminal in Jamaica. More than 50 years later, Pan Am and its Worldport are gone and the 15- to 20-foot tall zodiac sculptures are out of sight, wasting away in crates inside a Kennedy Airport hangar, according to their creator, Milton Hebald, and others.
"It's awful. It's a tragedy," said Hebald, the legendary artist and native New Yorker. "They need to get out of that cold, dark hangar," said Hebald, who lives in Los Angeles and still creates works at 97. "It is my wish before I die to have them back outside -- maybe along the Hudson River Drive."
The sculptures, packed away since the 1990s, have had no takers despite hundreds of letters and phone calls to deep-pocketed philanthropists, art lovers, airports and government agencies nationwide.
"They don't want to deal with it," said Robert Genna, a curator of Hebald's sculptures and a retired architect living in Connecticut, of the many rejections he has endured. "I spoke to wealthy people across the country and they all would like to help, but have all declined."
Kenneth Pushkin, a Santa Fe, N.M., gallery owner who sells Hebald's works, estimated it would cost about $10,000 to $20,000 to restore the statues.
And it's not that people who could help don't want to, said Ann Blumensaadt, a retired Pan Am flight attendant who was part of an effort to stop last year's demolition of the Worldport -- or Terminal 3 -- to make room for a new Delta Air Lines terminal and more parking slots for planes.
"I think people are interested in restoring them, but it is finding a place big enough so people can enjoy them," said Blumensaadt, a member of the San Francisco-based Pan Am Historical Foundation.
The sculptures -- taking up about 220 feet in length, or about two-thirds of a football field -- "are too big for a museum," she said.
In 1960, when they were hung at the terminal, the pieces were among the largest sculpture installations in the world, according to Pushkin. He said they would be a perfect display of public art on Governors Island in New York Harbor, adding "People would see them and love them forever."
The Port Authority owns the sculptures and would "allow a legitimate art institution to take them," spokesman Ron Marsico said. Scale models of the zodiac sculptures that Hebald made before completing the larger versions will be part of an aviation museum at the historic and newly renovated TWA terminal, Marsico said. An opening date for the terminal museum, which would include memorabilia from Pan Am's glory days as well as those of the Worldport, has not been set.
Genna is still hoping there's a home for the life-size sculptures.
"We disposed of the Worldport for a parking lot and now we are letting these works of art lay broken in crates. We don't know how to preserve art," said Genna, who has vowed not to give up. "It's like a dog with a bone. You never let go."