Famous Sculptures at Wise Towers Ripped Out, Rattling Italian Museum


The former site of the sculptures. Photo by Jeff French Segall.

By Jeff French Segall

The Stephen Wise Towers are undergoing major changes both within and without, and one recent change has unsettled people as far away as Italy.

The Stephen Wise development is a NYCHA property that occupies four buildings with addresses on West 90th and West 91st Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenue.

This week, a sculpture of several concrete horses by Italian artist Constantino Nivola in 1964 was removed from the site, alarming some art-lovers — even those as far away as Sardinia, Italy. The Nivola Museum there wrote on Facebook that the removal was “terrible news.”

“It’s not about vandals, it’s about a ‘renovation’ project,” the museum said.

NYCHA and a private company are undertaking a renovation of the area, including apartments and the grounds of the housing project.


How the horses looked before. Photo by Jeff French Segall.

Rochel Leah Goldblatt, the Deputy Press Secretary for NYCHA, said that the art installation will be restored and highlighted as part of the project.

“This installation has four main features: concrete horses which had been previously damaged, a wall mural, sculpture wall along 90th street, and two concrete pyramids, that originally operated as a water feature but has not functioned in years,” she said in a statement. “Due to the need to repair a vital underground water line [which feeds the fire suppression systems in the buildings], the concrete horse sculptures were recently removed. The concrete horses are currently in the basement of one of the buildings and the restored horses will be replaced when the grounds repairs are complete.”

(The prior damage to the horses occurred in the 1980’s when vandals knocked off the muzzles of each of the horses.)

There are other major changes already going on at the property:

Heavy construction equipment is onsite and temporary barricades block the wide community space between the buildings. A company called PACT Renaissance Collaborative is upgrading not only the recreational areas but all four of the buildings, according to Amy Stokes, Assistant Vice President of PRC. Outdoors, there will be new swings and jungle gyms, BBQ pits, new seating, new bushes and trees, and a rebuilding of the basketball courts and creating a smaller soccer field, she said. Many new security cameras will be installed outside as well as inside the buildings – in elevators and hallways.

Indoors, every one of the 399 apartments will be completely renovated, she said. New stoves, appliances, windows, plumbing and wiring will be installed. Residents can stay on site during the renovations, and the company will mitigate dust and debris with filtration and negative pressure air machines, Stokes said.  Elevators, boilers, wiring and plumbing will all be upgraded or replaced. She believes the whole job will be completed by the end of this year, or early into 2022, depending on the weather.

Wise Towers is part of the Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD) that allows public housing authorities to transfer their units from public housing to the Section 8 program, and to confer section 8 status to all residents even if some of them are not currently on that program. That Section 8 status will be portable in case a tenant decides to move to a different state.


Photo by Jeff French Segall.

Residents had mixed opinions on the changes. ”They’ve been replacing the plumbing in the building because of years of damage in these buildings,” said Esther (above), one tenant. “The bathroom will be renovated first. It’s not like they’re going to renovate the whole apartment all at once. They’ll close off the bathroom, but first they’re going to make sure that all the pipes are fixed and will be new.”


Photo by Jeff French Segall.

Chino (above), the President of the Tenants’ Association, expressed doubts and reservations about the changes. “I wonder who allowed that to happen?….What part of government gave NYCHA the necessary funds and let us get on the market and be bought by these private entities? To me this is not NYCHA.” He accused NYCHA of “letting these people tear up the heartbeat and the essence of what these buildings are all about…In my opinion NYCHA left us. They don’t do anything.  They don’t do repairs. Somebody has to be responsible.”

To learn more about the current program, see NYCHA’s press release at https://www1.nyc.gov/site/nycha/about/press/pr-2020/pr-20201130.page

NEWS | 32 comments | permalink
    1. Boris says:

      People are upset they’re renovating, upgrading, and improving the entire property? I don’t understand what they’re complaining about. And does anyone in Italy have a clue what’s going on? The UWS must be the ulcer capital of the world.

      • Danny says:

        The horse sculptures are tacky and the explorations of Columbus are becoming recognized as increasingly problematic. I’m glad they were removed because they caused so much hate.

        • Wayne Z. says:

          Ah, yes. Let us never forget all the hatred those concrete horses caused.

        • Dom says:

          “recognized” only by the city’s vocal minority of cancel-culture blowhards. You people will find colonial oppression in a seesaw.

    2. Lauren says:

      I’m so confused. They’re renovating 400 apartments and the common areas but people are upset? What am I missing???

      • Anita says:

        If the tenants say there are issues, why do people automatically question them? Why not stop by and ask if you’re so confused?

    3. uwsmom says:

      I’m confused why the tenants assoc prez doesn’t want improvements to the buildings?

      • denton says:

        It’s pretty simple. This development has been essentially privatized. The tenants know exactly what will happen. After they get their pretty new bathrooms, down the road bad things are likely to happen.

      • Boris says:

        People resist change. They would rather put up with the broken elevators, poorly functioning heating system, water leaks, fires from overloaded electrical circuits, etc.

    4. UWSer says:

      I don’t understand the complaints. NYCHA has proven it is terrible at property management. The property was transferred to an entity that can be held responsible for its actions, unlike NYCHA. The apartments and common areas are getting upgrades and repairs, free to the residents. The residents can continue to receive subsidized housing. The only question might be whether the residents now have to qualify/certify annually for section 8. Since rental subsidies should only go to qualified beneficiaries, there should be no problem.

      • Jay says:

        UWSer:

        “I don’t understand the complaints. NYCHA has proven it is terrible at property management.”

        Right, and you don’t want to understand the complaints.

        What you think is “proven” regards NYCHA is a 40 year long process designed to make public housing that works (NYCHA through the early 2000s for example) fail so private speculators can take over. Specific policies pursued by Pataki, Bloomberg and De Blasio were/are designed to make matters worse in the long run.

        • UWSer says:

          NYCHA has failed in terms of maintenance, safety, lead poisoning, rat control, and now art preservation… Public housing should not be the end goal. Rather, the goal should be affordable housing, which this provides.

          • Jay says:

            USWer:

            The points you missed:

            Public Housing is affordable housing for the working poor.

            And programs designed to degrade it in NYC have accelerated over the last 20 years. Section 8-ing it is designed to destroy it.

            Furthermore: “housing” by itself doesn’t have to be private property.

    5. Steph says:

      The Nivola horses are extremely famous Italian works of art. They weren’t simply “relocated,” they chopped them off at the knees and left the stumps still in the ground! Totally disrespectful. This is why Italy got involved.

      • Darwin says:

        Typical NYCHA sledgehammer approach to a problem. Those poor horses have been in such bad disrepair for so long . . .

      • B.B. says:

        Costantino Nivola left Italy and emigrated to USA in 1939. Other than being of Italian heritage don’t see why on earth Italy needs to “be involved”.

        Does the USA reach out to France each time anything needs doing with Statue of Liberty?

    6. Kitty says:

      How simple it would have been to communicate to the world at large the plans for the beloved horses. An article in The West Side Rag would have been a good start. It’s the fait accompli aspect that New Yorkers resent, and rightly so. Talk to us!!

      • Boris says:

        There are plenty of articles written about the removal and information is readily available. Did you expect a personal call?

    7. ST says:

      More DeBlasio administration doltitude.

    8. GG says:

      BBQ pits?? In Manhattan??

      I don’t know if that is a good idea. Where else in the city is something like that OK?

    9. Pato Paez says:

      Of course renovation needs to happen, but removing these sculptures without a specific plan for their restoration and relocations is incredibly sad.

      • Boris says:

        What do you know that no one else knows about there not being a plan? People are making such a big deal about this for nothing. How is everyone such an expert in how to remove these horses so that necessary repairs can be performed? I guarantee that when the repairs are completed and the horses are reinstalled, no one will have a valid complaint.

        • GG says:

          Looks to me like YOU are the only one making a big deal about it.

          This is your 4th comment about it.

          Also, did you notice that they chopped the feet off of those sculptures to remove them? Imagine if they did that to the Wall Street bull. I bet you’d be here losing your mind over that. In fact, I “guarantee it”.

        • UWSdr says:

          The lack of forewarning and community engagement gives pause. We don’t know if there is a plan because none was promulgated. You have no idea if there is one either, so I am not sure where your ‘guarantee; comes from. I do hope that they will be replaced, those horses are amazing and so is that plaza. More importantly, I hope that the residents are able to live in functional, clean, safe apartments.

    10. babrarus says:

      “A horse is a horse of course of course”.

      Slow down a bit people. It’s called renovation.
      All will be back, or as our president says:

      “Build back – better”.

    11. B.B. says:

      Not first nor last of Costantino Nivola’s work to meet a sad end. At least the horses are only temporary. Other works both in USA and around world are simply gone.

      “But a trip uptown today finds these elements crumbling from neglect and riddled with graffiti. Advocates for conservation say that a survey of the damage alone will cost $14,000. Actual repairs could easily cost millions. As residents wait to see Nivola’s work restored, the condition of his sculptures continue to deteriorate.”

      https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/who-was-costantino-nivola

    12. B.B. says:

      Brutalism in all forms was a trend that seemed appealing at time, but simply has fallen out of favor. Sadly NYC and many other areas are often stuck with Brutalist architecture, artwork OTOH is another matter.

      • l'amant de la ville says:

        Brutalism need NOT be brutally ugly! According to the website http://www.nycurbanism (that’s nycUrbanism, not nyCurbanism!) there are many actually interesting examples of it, including two here on the ‘LUWS’ (Lower-Upper-West-Side).
        There’s both Lincoln Plaza Towers (62nd@Ninth Ave) AND Juilliard (66th@Broadway).
        But, across town, there IS the Upper East Side’s Met Whitney.
        Now, THAT’s…err…let’s say “less-than-purty”, unless, of course, you’re a BFoB (Big Fan of Breuer).

    13. Jay says:

      “Wise Towers is part of the Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD) that allows public housing authorities to transfer their units from public housing to the Section 8 program, and to confer [S]ection 8 status to all residents even if some of them are not currently on that program.”

      That’s a system meant to slowly destroy public housing in NYC, and elsewhere. Since Section 8 is welfare one has to apply for and in the long term the benefits can be cut. Whereas NYC public housing is something that once you’re accepted into you can pay the rent from wages earned at a low paying (say retail or custodial) job. So as long as one keeps the job/s, and pays rent, one gets to remain a resident of NYCHA housing.

      You could hypothetically lose your low paying job, not pay NYCHA rent for a long time and lose the apartment, but a single lost job is not like mass cuts to welfare programs such as Section 8.

      Turning NYCHA into Section 8 is a means of destroying NYCHA.

      Restore the commuter tax and use those funds for NYCHA. Reverse Bloomberg and De Blasio’s plans to hand over the land to speculators.

      Better still reverse Ronny Reagan’s mass public housing cut backs.

      Speculation: the removal of the sculptures is not simply about maintenance but is a demonstration of who is in control, not the residents and not the City Government. It’s also an example of “the poors shouldn’t have nice things” management.

    14. Jose Habib says:

      The horses were destroyed in the 80s. They should have removed them then instead of leaving them around for 40 years.

    15. Suzie E says:

      Walking past the horses — whose muzzles had all been broken off long ago — was the saddest thing. Such a pointless destruction, whether from anger or hate or sheer glee in destroying a thing of beauty and cheer and love…

      I often wished they would be removed, for seeing them broken was worse than not seeing them at all.

      Of course the repair of places human beings live is more important than the repair of the statues…but I do hope that in the end both can be done.