Nov 03, 2014

Astoria History – The Long Gone Statues At Astoria Pool

Over on Astorians, someone asked about the “Astoria Pool Sentinels” that used to reside at the pool, and we have to admit, they look very cool. I got curious about (…)

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Photo credit: Museum of the City of NY

Over on Astorians, someone asked about the “Astoria Pool Sentinels” that used to reside at the pool, and we have to admit, they look very cool. I got curious about them so I reached out to—who else—the Greater Astoria Historic Society. Executive Director Bob Singleton was kind enough to send his research our way, and explains a lot about the backstory on this gorgeous art deco statues—which were 16 feet high! He has given us permission to reprint the following research.

The original stainless steel sculptures of female athletes that had been produced by the noted sculptor Emil Siebern (1889-1942), who was a pioneer in the medium of stainless steel. They were identical statues of stainless steel and were erected on the promenade of the Astoria swimming Pool in the Borough of Queens in 1937. The figures, each sixteen feet high, were the first pieces of three-dimensional sculpture of any considerable size to be executed in stainless steel and were the result of nearly two years of planning and experimental work by the Department of Parks.

They were designed by Emil Siebern and executed by sheet metal workers under the direction of Thomas Roberts, representing a collaboration of architects, sculptors and artisans. As the limitations of steel had to be kept in mind when making the models, the shapes and forms were developed along modern lines. Stainless steel is not only fitted to harmonize with the architectural features of the Bath House, but its cost was less than that of bronze, marble or any of the other materials usually associated with sculpture.

The statues were a new departure in this field, the method, of assembling them is of particular interest. After the full size models were completed, preliminary paper patterns, similar to those used by dressmakers, were made and fitted to them. The paper patterns were then copied in zinc and eventually in galvanized iron. This stage of the work had to be executed with the utmost attention to detail as each figure consists of one hundred and twenty five separate pieces which had to be assembled with the greatest accuracy. Once the metal patterns were completed and carefully fitted to each other, the final work was cut in stainless steel by means of electric shears specially designed to overcome the unusual toughness of the material.

The next stage was to construct a system of reinforcement inside the figures to counteract the wind pressure which would be exerted on their sixteen feet of height. The pieces were welded together, using a special alloy so as not to break down the rust resisting qualities of the metal through overheating.

They were removed from the pedestals over the west side of the main entryway before 1943 due to deterioration. My thoughts were they were melted down and not repaired as stainless steel was needed for the war effort.

Big thanks to Bob and the GAHS for helping us learn a little more about the rich history of Astoria, Queens!

About Meg Cotner

Meg Cotner was trained as a harpsichordist and now works as a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Queens," and is a skilled and avid home cook, baker, and preserver.

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