Looks Like the Job was Done by a Pro

"Astoria Piano Vandalized" reads the headline of the Western Queens Gazette which, in case you have mislaid your copy, details the destruction of a piano which was placed in Athens Square Park by the nonprofit group Sing for Hope. As a summertime public art project which has become a kind of New York tradition (the cows, the Gates, the waterfalls), Sing for Hope has placed sixty pianos in public places around the five boroughs. “Play Me, I’m Yours!” the pianos invite.

One piano was placed in Athens Square Park in Astoria, home of the Steinway piano factory, the last active piano factory in New York City, which in the 19th century numbered 171. The last factory to close was the Sohmer factory, on Vernon Boulevard in Astoria, which closed in 1982, spent some time as an office furniture warehouse, and was declared an historic landmark in March, 2007, and has been in the process of being converted into condos for the past couple of years delayed, I can only surmise, by the credit crunch of the recession. If you have visited Socrates Sculpture Park, you have seen the former Sohmer factory with its landmark mansard-roofed clock tower. Sohmers are not Steinways, but they are nothing to sneeze at. When Irving Berlin wrote, “I Love a Piano,” he write it on a Sohmer.

Here is a photo and an excerpt from the fascinating (especially if you are a geek about the history of neighborhoods) report from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Why do I know all this? A few weeks before that factory was declared an historic landmark, I found a Sohmer piano put out on the street for Saturday large trash pickup. I have written about it here and am also developing it into a larger piece because, how can I put this, I just love pianos. I still have the Sohmer I rescued from the street, even though the soundboard is ruined and several of the keys don’t work at all. I have not come up with the $8,000 I need to have it fully restored to its former glory. But I can’t let go.

“The badly vandalized piano at Athens Square Park, 30th Street and 30th Avenue,” reads the article in the Western Queens Gazette, “had all of its keys and part of its inner gears removed.”

Indeed. The vandalism is quite specific and specialized. The piano was not smashed, axed, beat up, beat in, set on fire or otherwise generally molested. But its keys and part of its inner gears were removed. This particularly neighborhood is full of retired tuners and technicians. The violated piano was a Kimball, a Chicago-based manufacturer. The vandal carefully removed the keys from their supporting nails and left the frame. But why, as Keith Morrison on Dateline NBC would ask, why would anyone do that?

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Comment by Candi B on July 10, 2010 at 1:49pm
What makes me so sad about this story is that the piano was probably destroyed by some punk kids who think they are funny and clever. Now there is all of this media coverage furthering their joke and they are probably loving it. It gives a bad name to our neighborhood and makes Astoria seem like an unsafe area.
Comment by Ran Craycraft on July 6, 2010 at 10:44am
Embarrassing that of the 60 pianos throughout the City (including Times Square), only Astoria's was vandalized. I hope this doesn't prevent them from selecting another Astoria location next year.
Comment by Eliza Frank on July 5, 2010 at 3:09pm
Hey Kristin,

You are free to come over and look at my Sohmer and if you want it, take it. It does need work but it has great action and a beautiful tone. All the keys are intact, I think two or three of the "black" keys don't connect with their hammer. If you know the Neko Case cover of "Don't Forget Me," that's the kind of tone we're talking about. Feel free to contact me through my website.
Comment by Kristin on July 4, 2010 at 5:25pm
Wow what a negative outlook on life.....
Comment by Gil Nieves on July 4, 2010 at 5:21pm
I dont condone the distruction of the piano but it was not the greatest of ideas to place this in a park like this one at night you have bums sleeping there and juveniles that play there people are distructive dont know why they even wanted to place these antque pianos there .. dont you know people are turning into animals there are no more morals ,no body care anymore its all about them the hell with everyone else newyork including astoria is becoming a shit hole, all you see is garbage all over wasnt like that years ago... sad but true...!
Comment by Kristin on July 4, 2010 at 8:50am
This makes me incredibly sad......I have been wanting to play a piano for a long time now (being a composer and having to compose on a an electric keyboard is not the same ) and was looking forward to going down there and playing. Some people are just stupid, evil and ignorant and this just makes Astoria look bad.
Comment by Ran Craycraft on July 2, 2010 at 1:11pm
A classic pic from WNBC:

Comment by Bernadette Claffey on July 2, 2010 at 12:56pm
That's a damned shame. And btw, @Mara, that isn't the point.
Comment by Ran Craycraft on July 1, 2010 at 3:22pm
Here's a pic from the Gazette:

Comment by Ran Craycraft on July 1, 2010 at 3:20pm
Did the piano's parts hold any value? Did someone salvage it or do you think it was done as a statement (or was it just some idiot vandalizing the exhibit)?

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