An icon of 1960s flight, saved pane by pane
The iconic stain-glassed window is dismantled earlier this year. Below, one of the panels on display at a Chelsea shop. (Credit: Above, chrisl1024 on Flickr; below and after jump, Elisabeth Stuveras)
When American Airlines decided to demolish its Terminal 8 at Kennedy Airport, the fate of an iconic art piece hung in the balance.
An enormous red, white and blue stained-glass window had welcomed travelers since the terminal opened in 1960, its 900 panels signaling a new age of jet-set travel.
Robert Sowers' piece became a beloved landmark, but despite efforts to keep the piece intact, American Airlines had the window dismantled, a project that began this winter and was completed just a few weeks ago.
Portions of the mural will go on display on Long Island and Texas. But nostalgic travelers who recall the terminal's past can own a piece of that era.
A salvaging company, Olde Good Things, brokered a deal with the airline to deconstruct the mammoth artwork. Workers removed the panes with the agreement to give American as many pieces as it wished; the rest of the window was left to the salvaging company to sell in its Chelsea store, said American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith.
The shop received about 750 pieces and is selling them for about $95 a square foot, store employee Diana Harrod said. The pieces are numbered and the store has a map of the original window, so customers can purchase more than one pane and arrange them as they once were.
Eileen Vasquez Clifford, who created the Save Americas Window foundation to keep the piece intact, is disappointed that the piece was not preserved in its entirety.
Its just so sad, Clifford said, an American flight attendant for 29 years. The history of it was so great. It captures a moment in time; it had a certain style to it.
Smith, the airline spokesman, said the airline tried to keep the artwork intact.
It was a wonderful idea, but after working every possible way that we could imagine, there just was no reasonable financial way to fully preserve it or store it, he said.
This is just another way for people to see that aviation history that originated in the New York area, said Todd Richman, chairman of the board of trustees for the Long Island museum. Its not a very large piece, but at least there will be a piece at the museum that people can look at and say, that was once a really magnificent structure.
The airline is also considering ways to use small parts of the window at its new Kennedy terminal. There may be a small display with an explanation of the windows history, or panels might be used in nonpublic areas such as flight-attendant break rooms, Smith said.
Still,the glory days of Sowers behemoth glass window and the glamorous aviation culture that it symbolized are no more.
When people made those airline terminals, it was an expression of a certain era, Richman said. Our curators will try to place it so that people can recall and experience the wonder that it was.