Following the celebration of Memorial Day, many Upper West Siders are seeking to honor our service members in a new way – by finally repairing and restoring the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Riverside Park.
The Monument, which honors the New Yorkers who fought for the Union during the Civil War, was first put up in 1902 and has only narrowly survived the tests of time. The last time the monument was renovated was in 1962; since then, its paint has chipped and its structure has completely deteriorated.
The monument is a special one to many New Yorkers, who were once able to touch and enter the 96-foot-tall structure.
“The monument is one of the most beautiful ones in the city,” President of the New York Landmarks Conservancy Peg Breen said. “Though it was built to commemorate New Yorkers who died in the Civil War, it’s become a place where you commemorate people who served in all the wars too. It’s a real sign that we appreciate the sacrifices of those who died and those who served and came home.”
The monument has remained closed to the public since 2017 due to its structural damages.
On Memorial Day, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Association held their annual Memorial Day Observance at the monument to honor service members and their sacrifices. Among those in attendance were Representative Jerry Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and Marines and Coast Guardsmen. City Council Member Gale Brewer spoke at the event, citing the need for a comprehensive restoration of the monument.
“I will speak, as I have done on Memorial Days for many years, of the dedication of our service members and honor their sacrifices,” Brewer said in a press release prior to her speech. “But that will occur at a monument in such disrepair that they might wonder if we really mean it.”
Priority for Funding
Brewer has been at the forefront of the fight to restore the monument for several years. In her Memorial Day speech, Brewer said that the Mayor’s Office of Veteran’s Affairs and the Parks Dept. have already agreed to make the renovation of the monument their priority for federal funding next year.
But since the monument is a City landmark, Brewer is seeking City funding in addition to federal funding. Breen said that while she hopes federal funding will come through in the coming years, it is the city’s obligation to care for the monument.
“It’s a city landmark,” Breen said. “The city was supposed to be caring for it all along ... why should Washington pay for this monument if the city is not invested in it?”
The monument is currently on the National Register of Historic Places, a list of the nation’s historic sites worthy of preservation. Despite its placement on this list, the monument remains in disrepair, though some small improvements have been made over the past several years.
“This is a place where we’re supposed to go to reflect on the horrors of war and hopes for future peace,” a spokesperson from Brewer’s office said. “[Council Member Brewer] just believes that the city has an obligation and would like to see the city put forth the funding to restore the monument.”
“We have a few bills about preservation, and this is another instance of wanting to preserve a valuable piece of our community,” the spokesperson added.
Brewer recently released a petition calling on the City to fund the restoration of the monument, and many New Yorkers have already signed on showing their support.
“It is a disgrace that on this Memorial Day, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument is a crumbling and boarded up hulk,” one Twitter user shared on Memorial Day. “Honor the memories of those who fought in the Civil War by committing the resources to restore it.”
In 2017, the City Department of Parks and Recreation estimated that the cost to fully repair the monument would fall somewhere between $37 to $38 million, though Brewer predicts that the cost is likely around $50 million now and will continue to rise as more time passes.
Breen said there is a debate over whether the restoration should be “phased in” or if a major renovation should be completed all at once. Breen said she hopes that smaller scale projects begin immediately that show progress and encourage continued work on the monument.
“Prices only rise and deteriorating stone doesn’t get any better,” Breen said.
The fight to have the monument restored has been going on for several years with many hoping that this is the year the federal and city funding finally comes through.
“New York is remarkably cavalier with its incredible history,” Breen said. “This is too important a place, and too many New Yorkers have served and sacrificed to not care for it properly.”
“The monument is one of the most beautiful ones in the city. Though it was built to commemorate New Yorkers who died in the Civil War, it’s become a place where you commemorate people who served in all the wars too.” Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy