When the original Pennsylvania Station was demolished and set to be dumped unceremoniously into the New Jersey Meadowlands, the saving of the Penn Station eagles became a symbolic gesture. Of the 22 eagles that once graced the granite facade, 18 can still be located either in full or partially in places throughout the country. The exist in both exalted destinations in universities and zoos and in more mundane locations in parking lots and storage lots. Two eagles which took us a few attempts to visit are located on the grounds of the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, Long Island.
These two eagles are located in front of the entrance of O’Hara Hall, a gymnasium on the campus of what was once the Henri Bendel estate (later purchased by Walter P. Chrysler of automobile fame). The other part of the Merchant Marine Academy was previously the William Slocum Barstow estate, a Gold Coast property along the Long Island north shore. Barstow was a partner of Thomas Edison and later served as the first mayor of Kings Point.
These two eagles originally sat on the 7th Avenue facade of the original Pennsylvania Station. One of the two eagles suffered damage to its beak and it appears to have been reshaped in concrete for the time being. A set of two nearby plaques state that the Kings Point eagles are “symbols of our national heritage,” and that they were placed here on either side of the southern entrance to O’Hara Hall in 1964 and that “two of their mates now guard the main entrance to Madison Square Garden.” (Those two eagles were temporarily removed by Vornado in September 2019 for renovation of the plaza and have not yet returned).
Each of these granite eagles weigh about 5,500 pounds and were quarried from Milford, Massachusetts. All of the eagles were designed by German-born sculptor Adolph Weinman, who was hired by McKim, Mead & White to do the sculptural decoration on Pennsylvania Station. He attended Cooper Union, which was also able to salvage one of the Penn Station eagles that is now on the eight floor green roof of 41 Cooper Square in the East Village. Weinman also designed the Night & Day sculptures on the old Penn Station, of which one of the “Night” sculptures is now located in the Brooklyn Museum’s sculpture courtyard, while one of the “Day” scuptures is at the Eagle Scout Fountain in Kansas City, Missouri.
O’Hara Hall is named after Edwin J. O’Hara a Merchant Mariner who fought in World War II and was the first recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the Merchant Marine. He is also the first person who lost his life while earning this medal. Only 18 years old in 1942, the California born O’Hara was assigned to the Liberty ship the Stephan Hopkins. According to the Merchant Marine Academy, the ship was “alone and traveling westbound in the South Atlantic in September, 1942, when it encountered two German commerce raiders. Though the Hopkins carried only one four-inch gun and other light armament, its crew decided to fight rather than to surrender. With his ship aflame and near sinking and with the rest of the crew killed, O’Hara began single-handedly loading and firing the ship’s remaining shells. Astoundingly, O’Hara scored hits on both enemy ships, sinking one and damaging the other. When the Hopkins finally sank, O’Hara went down with her.”
O’Hara Hall was dedicated in 1944. It contains the home courts for the Academy’s men’s and women’s basketball team, a swimming and diving pool, and facilities for volleyball, racquetball, and wrestling. The building is also host to the Kings Point Athletic Hall of Fame.
What makes the siting of these Penn Station eagles at Kings Point unique is the proximity you can get to them. Unlike say, the eagle at the Hicksville train station or the ones that used to be in front of Madison Square Garden, they are not situated on a tall pedestal. This means that you can walk around and get very close to the eagles, noting for example, that the back of the eagles are basically unfinished with a rough surface. You can also see the details on the claws and feathers up close.
The Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point also is also home to a museum, located in the Barstow Mansion. The museum covers the history of Merchant Marine and other areas of nautical history. One of the highlights on display is the sword of Japanese Vice Admiral Matomu Ugaki he gave upon his surrender in World War II to General Douglas MacArthur on October 18, 1945. Due to the pandemic, the Academy is currently closed the public so stay tuned for when you can visit this interesting site again. Next, discover where the rest of the eagles ended up in our guide here!
Learn more about about the past and future of Pennsylvania Station, and the fate of more of the Penn Station eagles in our virtual talk today on the Remnants and Future of Penn Station. Tickets are $15 but you can join for free as an Untapped New York Insider (use code JOIN US for two months free).