Fight for a Borough Hall monument

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Perhaps a sculpture in New York City never experienced as much controversy as “The Triumph of Civic Virtue,” which proves that a significant work of public art inspires a great debate.

Civic Virtue once stood proudly near Queens Borough Hall

Here’s a rundown of Civic Virtue’s controversial history:
1922: Civic Virtue, a 22-foot stone and white Georgia marble statue designed by the famed sculptor Frederick MacMonnies is installed in City Hall Park.

May 29, 1941: After Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia despises seeing the statue’s backside from City Hall, it is moved to just west of Queens Borough Hall.

February 2011: (Ex-) Congressman Anthony Weiner proclaims the statue “sexist” and “anti-woman,” and addresses a letter to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services calling for its banishment from Queens. Weiner critics claim that Civic Virtue is a symbolism of Greek mythology which denounces societal wrongdoings. It depicts a muscular nude Hercules who stands over two mermaid-like sirens, which allegorically represent “vice” and “corruption.”

November 13, 2012: The NYC Design Commission approves a move of Civic Virtue on a “long-term loan” agreement.

December 15, 2012: Detached from the Angelina Crane Fountain, the 24-ton public statue is hoisted up and carted away by the city to Brooklyn’s privately owned Green-Wood Cemetery.

Fans of the statue petitioned elected officials to restore the weathered statue for over a decade, but were ignored. In fall 2012, Kew Gardens preservationist and City Council candidate Jon Torodash founded, with a mission of restoring the statue in Queens.

Whitestone resident and media producer Robert LoScalzo submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) seeking the release of all records of communication between DCAS and Green-Wood Cemetery.

When DCAS refused, he cited the City Charter and filed an Article 78 petition on June 27, 2013, against DCAS and its commissioner, Edna Wells Handy.

LoScalzo prevailed. According to Torodash and LoScalzo’s joint report, FOIL requests revealed that city taxpayer funds paid the cost of $49,464 for a fine art conservator to not only rejuvenate the statue, but prepare it for relocation.

City taxpayer funds also paid $49,801 for the costs of a steel fabrication specialist to construct a custom armature, to facilitate moving the statue.

“A year ago, taxpayers were led to believe that it was necessary that the statue be removed from Queens Boulevard so that it could be restored and conserved,” Torodash and LoScalzo said. “Rather, moving the statue ultimately cost taxpayers many more dollars than conserving it on Queens Boulevard.”

Their findings revealed that Green-Wood Cemetery paid the costs of supervising relocation work and providing a final sacrificial coating at an estimated $27,500, as well as $165,000 for the statue’s rigging, lifting, and transport.

The pair’s report also questioned the dealings of the Design Commission and Green-Wood Cemetery.

“Keri Butler, a director at the Design Commission, created the presentation which Green-Wood then delivered at the hearing shortly after Hurricane Sandy, to lobby the very Design Commission to obtain the statue,” the report charged. “It is inconceivable that a city public employee would be doing work on behalf of a private entity to displace city property.”

“DCAS and Green-Wood cemetery executed a ‘long-term loan’ agreement for the statue, but nowhere does the agreement specify the term of the loan,” they said.

“Borough President Helen Marshall spent $23 million on her pet project to build a glass atrium behind Borough Hall, but couldn’t find a paltry sum to preserve a piece of history,” said Torodash.

A few months ago, DCAS proposed landscaping the remaining Angelina Crane Fountain with wildflowers. This was reportedly vetoed by Marshall.

“This so called ‘planted ruin’ is more of an insult than if they had simply proposed nothing at all,” said Torodash. “Does the borough president actually have the authority to veto DCAS’s plan? If so, what is DCAS’ revised plan?”

With new elected officials, Torodash and LoScalzo hope something can be done to right the wrong they perceive was perpetrated when Civic Virtue was moved.

“We need to genuinely hear the concerns of the borough’s residents, and call upon new Borough President Melinda Katz to hold a public hearing concerning any city proposal for the future use of the former Civic Virtue site, and to reject any proposal that does not have public support,” Torodash said.

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1 Response

  1. William Kregler says:

    August 22, 2017
    Today, public officials unveiled the newly restored fountain at Queens Borough Hall in honor of Women of Queens.
    What once stood on top of the fountain was the statue called Civic Virtue. Its sculptor, Fredrick William MacMonnies, designed the statue as “Civic Virtue Triumphant over Unrighteousness.”
    The statue was unveiled at City Hall in 1922 at a cost of $60,000 of taxpayer money. It depicted a strapping, nude man personifying civic virtue, triumphantly standing over the twin sirens of vice and corruption. Some people had a different interpretation of the art work. It was later moved to Queens Borough Hall in 1941 and remained there unkempt for 71 years. Then in 2012, the City decided to secretly move the statue from public view to private property in Brooklyn. The benefactor was the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
    What should bother most people is the lack of a public forum in its removal. We are at a time of our history that certain individuals or groups of people believe they have the right to re-interrupt an artist’s meaning in his work and therefore apply 21st century attitudes to early meanings at the time of the work.
    I recall not too long ago when city funds were used to present art work depicting a crucifix in a jar of urine. Back then the radical liberals defended the art work and chastised the critics for imposing their narrow minded viewpoints of an artist’s own interpretation. How far have we come in reversing these roles?
    The rightful place for Civic Virtue is back at City Hall Park to remind all elected officials, particularly the current administration, that they cannot run a Tammany Hall administration or act like a Boss Tweed.

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