It’s been a long journey for the concrete Nivola horses. First they lost their muzzles. Then, they lost their hooves. But now, as West Side Rag reported, all 18 of them are finally back at the Stephen Wise Towers this week — plump and fully formed.
The horse sculptures were originally designed in 1964 by modernist Sardinian sculptor Costantino Nivola for the Upper West Side NYCHA complex and installed in its outdoor recreational area. Over the years kids played on the statues and they became beloved local figures, even as their noses got smashed off and their white, black, and gray coloring was wearing off over time. Then, in 2021, they were suddenly removed overnight by a landscape contractor who — to the horror of preservationists — sawed them off at the knees to conduct a water main repair, leaving behind only their little hooves. NYCHA promised that the statues would be reinstalled after a planned redesign of the plaza finished in 2022.
While repairs in NYCHA buildings can sometimes take years due to red tape and a lack of funding, the money for the Nivola restoration came from a newer model of financing. Wise Towers is part of Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT), a partnership with private developers that is tasked with rehabilitating public housing buildings. In the wake of bad horse-hoof press, the developers hired the restoration firm Jablonski Building Conservation to repair the horses. They were moved to a storage room in the towers, which the conservators tasked with restoring the statues took to calling “the stable,” as they told Curbed at the time. The work was painstaking — the restorers asked the contractors to bring them the hooves that had been attached to the plaza, but they were damaged beyond repair. Edward Fitzgerald, one of the conservators, had to travel to a school in Columbus, Indiana, to cast a new mold from fiberglass versions of the sculptures that were housed there. “It’s pretty challenging to put Humpty back together again,” Fitzgerald said.
But put Humpty (or rather, the king’s horses) back together they did. Thanks to the conservators’ work, more than a year after they were promised to return, the Nivola horses have arrived home.