Paint, sweat and gears The unfinished ‘Relationships’ building along the Hoboken train tracks

Note: This is part of a weekly series about unusual buildings around Hudson County. Ever see a strange-looking structure and wonder what it was? From North Bergen to Hoboken to Bayonne, you’ll soon find out!

After years of blending in with the tracks, gravel, and wire fencing that encompasses Hoboken’s Observer Highway, New Jersey Transit infused a bit of artistic expression into the mix in 1994 by hiring English-born artist Andrew Maishman to paint the “Relationships” Mural on its Hoboken Engine House Building.

Twelve years later, the mural remains unfinished, and the future of the building is uncertain.

Hitler, Yin & Yang rejected

Although Maishman embraced the mural’s “Commuting” theme provided by NJT, he decided to go beyond the mundane portrait of men and women making their way to work and instead use the opportunity to make a “socially relevant” statement on human extremes and the necessary balance that keeps society intact.

In Maishman’s original proposal for NJT, more than 60 painted individuals would make their way between a portrait of Adolf Hitler representing conflict and Mahatma Gandhi representing harmony.

Between the extremes, Maishman planned to write “The Tao” in 8-foot-high letters. “The Tao” is an Ancient Chinese expression that translates into English as “The path” or “The way” one chooses in his or her journey through life. Maishman had also created a black and white Yin/Yang symbol.

NJT rejected the idea of Hitler welcoming people into Hoboken, and also rejected “The Tao” because they considered it an endorsement of Eastern Mysticism.

So Maishman replaced “The Tao” with “Relationships” and substituted an atomic bomb for Hitler and a peace sign for Gandhi, while removing the Yin/Yang symbol. The new proposal was approved.

Eventually, a new complaint

The painting process began in the summer of 1994 and took approximately five months, involving over 15 individual artists. The Newark gallery “City Without Walls” managed the project’s finances.

NJT reimbursed approximately $7,300 of the cost. But the artists were unable to raise the rest of the funds needed to paint the figures of the commuters on the wall.

The unfinished mural remained on the wall for more than 10 years, provoking questions from some. Eventually there was a complaint.

In October of 2005, a Hoboken resident allegedly complained about the nuclear explosion during an NJT board meeting. The company’s executive director, George Warrington, decided to have the nuclear explosion painted over. NJT would not release the specific reason for the complaint, nor the name of the person.

Prior to altering the mural’s content, NJT informed Maishman of their plans and received his approval.

In November of 2005, the nuclear explosion was painted over.

The Hoboken Engine House

The Hoboken Engine House, located at 115 Observer Highway near the city’s train station, was originally built by the Erie Lackawanna Railroad Company, whose trains used to run through Hoboken to Pennsylvania and New York. The Erie-Lackawanna Railroad had been created in 1960 when the Erie Railroad merged with the Delaware Lackawanna & Western (D.L. & W.) New Jersey began taking over commuter rail routes later in the 1970s.

The facility was used as a storage facility for a while, until being commissioned as an engine house in 1982.

The long building, which stands in front of the NJ Transit train tracks along Hoboken’s southern border, contains a rail that runs down the center of the workspace, providing a large area transport everything from locomotive engines to coach cars. Its 36,000 square foot interior at one time housed up to 43 mechanics and supervisors.

The building, which is not considered to be a historic structure, has not been in use for the past 12 months, with the exception of an occasional light repair taking place inside. According to NJT spokeswoman Courtney Carroll, the reason the engine house is not being used is that they are phasing in a new Hoboken “B” Yard fueling facility located along another stretch of land on Observer Highway.

Maishman and contributing artist Peter Bill (who painted the peace symbol on the outside wall) both said they were told by NJT in 1994 that the building would be torn down in a few years. But NJT Spokesman Ken Hitchner could not confirm the rumor, saying only that there are “no imminent plans to tear it down.”

Hitchner did, however, say that NJT is currently in the process of a redevelopment plan that will impact the engine house. He could provide no specifics at this time.

Michael Mullins can be reached at


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