Historic Riverside Park Monument Now a Fenced-Off ‘Hazard,’ and It’s Not Clear When it Will Reopen

By Michael McDowell

Riverside Park’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, the ornate circular structure and plaza at 89th Street and Riverside Drive, commemorates those who fought and lost their lives for the Union in the Civil War.

The landmarked memorial is one of the Upper West Side’s finest, a neighborhood favorite that plays host to Shakespeare in warmer months, and is also the site of a well-known and long-running Memorial Day celebration.

But, as those who enjoy Riverside Park know well, while the plaza remains accessible, the monument is currently surrounded by chain-link fencing.

Why? The structure is cordoned off due to a real risk of falling debris.

“It’s actually a hazard,” explained Riverside Park Conservancy head Dan Garodnick, in an interview.

The most recent restoration occurred over fifty years ago, from 1959-1962, and there has been no significant maintenance since. All mortar joints on the monument and the surrounding plaza, steps, cheek walls, and retaining walls, are failing. Marble elements and stonework are cracking, the result of decades of exposure to the elements, and the northern retaining walls are falling apart, with granite pieces loose and dropping onto the ground below.

Such neglect has resulted in a sky-high price tag to repair Soldiers’ and Sailors’: $32 million. As a result, it is beyond the reach of most private philanthropists, and requires public attention and funding.

When will it be restored? Unfortunately, a budget allocation hasn’t been made.

“If there’s no money, there is no timeline,” Garodnick told the Rag.

But, he assured, the Conservancy is committed to advocating for repair and improvement.

“People reach out to [the Conservancy] often asking what’s going on, why is [the monument] gated, when is it going to get fixed—this is shameful—and we have told them that it’s important to voice their concerns to elected officials like Helen Rosenthal, and to the Mayor as well, to let them know that this is a public priority,” he continued.

“It’s a monument that people love and are proud of, and in contrast to so many conversations about monuments nationwide that should be removed, this one we want to celebrate. This one deserves to be cherished,” he added.

The annual Memorial Day commemoration will take place as planned in May, as will summer theatre.

On a recent spring afternoon, sunny but cold, a couple walked toward the monument, and paused in front of the fencing. After a few moments, they turned and strolled on, further into Riverside Park.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 37 comments | permalink
    1. katherine says:

      I figured it was fenced off to deter skate boarders, whose constant slamming the boards on the steps must be terrible for them. It’s certainly a lot quieter now, but it’s sad to see the beautiful monument in such disrepair.

    2. Sam says:

      One dollar each from 32 million people from around the world who love New York will get the job done overnight.
      Wish someone would start the movement.
      I am going to do my share. Will WSR accept my US$100 for this cause?
      From Sarajevo

    3. Yael says:

      Good grief! I spent (literally) the majority of my childhood (& life) on or around the Ss’ & Ss’ Memorial. Such a sad sight now…

    4. luke says:

      sort of like the condition of NYC thanks to our former and present elected officials

      • Caroline Avery says:

        Yes, indeed! With parks bearing the brunt of it.

        Perhaps money on psrks instead of bike lanes that no one uses and congests traffic. Especially when tbey are just a block or two from Central Park!! The only park that is adequately maintained…..

    5. Dee Greenwood says:

      This is heartbreaking to me. I played on the plaza as a child snd it has been a destination for walking now 50 years later. Kids would play on the canons not understanding fully their original purpose. I hope funding and fundraising can save this beautiful and iconic monument.

    6. Scott says:

      $32 million is almost exactly what DeB has given away to the undocumented for free legal assistance and medical care. Then there’s the hundreds of millions he’s wasted on “Thrive” which can’t even account for its budget. Meanwhile our monuments crumble and Riverside Park is in a total shambles.

      • Chrigid says:

        jeez, man, we all love the monument but making it more important than legal assistance and medical care for humans?

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        Scott’s post has a right wing political agenda. Thrive is an excellent program and there is no hint of corruption. the money goes to things like mental health in schools.

        We can fix this monument and still have needed mental health programs, and legal assistance and medical care for immigrants.

        • sg says:

          Yeah but not for criminals…which illegal immigrants are.

          • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

            i wonder if you think the people employing them are criminals. that’s actually a more serious legal violation than overstaying a visa.

            calling undocumented immigrants “criminals” is a bigoted and hateful statement. the vast majority are honest working people, and you see them every day working in stores on Broadway.

            the average undocumented worker has violated far fewer laws than Donald Trump.

            but i guess haters are gonna hate.

          • Mark says:

            Anybody who crosses on a red light has violated the law and is a criminal.

      • Sid says:

        Can you cite the source for that $32m figure? Supposing it is true, it only accounts for .03% of the NYC budget.

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          Sid,

          No one knows how much medical care undocumented immigrants get in NYC from city sources. So Scott is blowing smoke, at least on that issue.

          NYC’s public hospital system (NYC Health + Hospitals) gives primary (outpatient), specialist, emergency, and inpatient care to anyone who needs it, regardless of immigration status. I work for H+H, and can tell you that we DO NOT ASK, are NOT ALLOWED to ask, immigration status upon registration. We do ask insurance status.

          Since many undocumented cannot get “regular” Medicaid (they can get what is called “emergency” Medicaid, which is limited and does not cover most primary care) nor can they get ACA (Obamacare) insurance, they show up in our records as “self pays.” Self-pays at H+H pay a sliding scale, depending on income. the odds are that undocumented make up a large percentage of self-pays, who are in effect subsidized if they have very low income. But, no one REALLY knows.

          Scott is probably complaining about De Blasio’s new “universal health care” plan, which brings uninsured, many undocumented, more into the primary care orbit:

          https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/01/de-blasio-new-york-city-health-care-plan-universal-coverage/579787/

          In fact, since many or most are now getting primary care through H+H emergency rooms, this could end up SAVING money.

          In any case, we are all proud that H+H has a longstanding policy of treating all NYers, regardless of income and insurance status. Does it cost $32 million extra to do so? Probably more. But that’s our commitment and mission, and it’s what we do. It would be like banning undocumented from the public schools, or the subways, or from police protection. I don’t think we want to go there or become that type of city.

          • Sid says:

            Completely agree, and I appreciate their work! I was also thinking that he was blowing smoke

      • Dissident says:

        Scott:

        “The undocumented”?

        You, of all the regulars here, should know that is a manipulative euphemism for the proper term that was still standard at least as late as three decades ago: illegal aliens. To recognize the Newspeak is already to have capitulated. To control the language is to have already won.

    7. Pesdestrian says:

      No significant maintenance! Just like the rest of the city. One has to wonder if the so called public servants ever take the time to walk around the City to see the mess it is. Crumbling streets and plazas. Filthy side walks and over flowing trash cans and plugged up street drains the smell like New Orleans in mid August in the middle of winter.

      While the mayor flies around the Country looking for something more interesting to do, NYCHA housing is ignored and residents suffer.

      But never mind billionaires are enjoying new $100 million apartments complete with tax abatements. $6 billion plus for Hudson Yards and other Supertalls are stealing light and air from the rest of us and more tax abatements and some with millions of $ meant for affordable housing.

      We can’t even maintain a memorial to the soldiers who faught to save the Union and end slavery, for God’s sake. Shameful!

    8. McComas Maggie says:

      $32 mil? Gotta be kidding. But private contractors have a record of jacking up the bill when it comes to public works projects.

    9. Andy R says:

      $32,000,000 to repair this structure? Don’t more people think that this is absurd?

      The base of the monument is 2,135 sf. At 95′ tall, assuming the same footprint to the top, it’d be like a 10 story building with a total of 21,350 sf. At a cost of $1500/sf, for a brand new ultra-luxury building, this would be $32,025,000 for 10 floors of modern plumbing, power, HVAC, Live Laugh Love signs and more. For reference, Hudson Yards was built at about $750/sf.

      Someone with a sound mind should be able to come up with a reasonable level of repair work at a reasonable cost. Most of this structure is existing to remain. I’m guessing that if you disassembled this brick by brick and rebuilt it, you could do it for less than half of the estimate.

    10. Nelson says:

      Thanks for this WSR. After last year’s Memorial Day service, I wrote a check to the Riverside Conservancy earmarked for the Monument. (Pointed there by Rosenthal’s office). I guess it just helped pay for some chain link. It makes me sad to see this once beautiful spot so dilapidated. I don’t want us to complacently “get used” to its current state. Who is the right bureaucrat to contact for legitimate help?

    11. Kat French says:

      “…it is beyond the reach of most private philanthropists, and requires public attention and funding.”

      No, it is not out of their reach. There are 82 billionaires who live in New York City, according to Curbed. If each of them donated just $400,000, it would be enough. Another article in the same publication notes the 25 most expensive homes currently for sale in NYC… ALL are well above $32 million. This city has a lot of people who could write a check tomorrow to cover the needed repairs. What better philanthropic cause than a very public monument that would carry the benefactor’s name for decades to come? Don’t use public funds that could be better spent helping people on the margins of society or fixing the subways that millions depend on. The Conservancy should do a fundraising campaign for the monument. If Jackie O. could save Grand Central Terminal, Upper West Siders can save this monument.

      • KittyH says:

        A very good proposal, and perhaps one which could best be put into action by recruiting a present-day equivalent to Jackie O. who’d put a face on this project while promoting the cause.

      • Sherman says:

        The wealthy in NYC already donate a lot of money to various charities, schools, cultural organizations, etc.

        If some wealthy people want to donate to repair this monument that’s great but this should be the responsibility of the NYC Parks Department.

        Besides, $32M to repair this thing seems outrageously expensive.

        • KittyH says:

          It should be the responsibility of public agencies, but they’re not making it happen. If private philanthropy on either large or small scale can be inspired through a well thought out campaign and results are achieved, that’s better than waiting for a city agency to do the job they’ve ignored for fifty years.

    12. AC says:

      Central Park Conservancy, Riverside Park Conservancy, Needle Park Conservancy, etc. All these Conservancies??? Both parks and every monument that fell within their grounds used to be maintained by the Dept. of Parks. That’s where our taxes go. Now we have added staff/payroll expenses handing out their silver cup requesting donations.

      Get the Parks Dept. back in there. Where is all our tax money going?

      Congestion Pricing, bag fees, etc. Does anyone else see a pattern?

    13. Harold says:

      It’s the sign of the time…..
      As this beautiful monument falls apart,
      so does the city it dwells in.

    14. Sick of the neglect says:

      New York has an astobishung number of billionaires, so irs realky a drop in the bucket. But their name woukdnt be on it.

      I think Bloomberg should pay for it since he took the Oarks out if the city budget which, since he stopped fully funding the “parks conservancy” once he was no linger mayor has meant every aspect of our parks is now looking a lot more like the early 8Os (ie following long-time neglect bec of NYC’s the bankruptcy in 70s).

      Look at the “median” section between the buildings on RSD & the park between 97-100th Streets. It’s worse than it’s been in my over 40-years of memory of this patch. So, Mikey, & Billy what say you?

    15. Peter says:

      $32 million–that is insane.

    16. sange says:

      WSR, can you ask the Conservancy to explain the $32 million price tag?

    17. ST says:

      The uglification of New York continues.

    18. Kenneth says:

      I am a professional capital infrastructure project manager and usually function as an owner’s rep on big restoration projects. The $32MM estimate is not surprising. It most likely includes restoring the building as well as the large stone plaza. Initially an architectural / engineering firm will have to assess all the damage and develop and document, in a set of construction plans and repair detail drawings for virtually every type of repair that is needed. The entire building will need to be surrounded in pipe scaffold for access to all the exterior surfaces. It is likely scaffold will need to be erected inside the structure as well. Many to most of the exterior stone cladding pieces (which weigh hundreds of pounds each) will need to be removed and reset with proper waterproofing behind them. Many stone units because they are damaged will have to be recreated either with cast stone or new stone. It is a painstaking process that moves very slowly and deliberately.
      There will be many hidden defects that can’t be pre-addressed and will require on-site design-build decisions by the engineers and the contractor. A similar painstaking approach will be needed for the steps and the plaza. The process will take several construction seasons. $32MM is not at all unexpected.

    19. G. Berger says:

      It’s a shame that this landmarked monument doesn’t have some kind of maintenance reserve fund. It is both a city and state landmark and probably should be elevated as a national landmark. Its Memorial Day dedication in 1902 was officiated by President Teddy Roosevelt. Unfortunately, the monument has been plagued with structural and other maintenance problems since 1907 onward. The state should have some discretionary funds to rehab this important landmark, if the city can’t foot the bill. We need it to honortand respect for our armed forces and our fallen heros, and to preserve a singular Greek-style architectural beauty.

    20. jezbel says:

      Actually I think individual public funding is an awesome idea. With a minimum donation of $1 children & their parents, former & current UWS’ers and people around around the country or around the globe could be able to come up with initial funding in a sizeable amount. When the Stature of Liberty was in the process, only the torch was sent to NYC so that builders could raise the money to build the pedistal. Children gave spare change at school, parents sent more if they had it, communities, churches & synagogues and social groups like the Lions Club etc. All sent money. Why not try an all out PR campaign to do that?

    21. Linzy Anderson says:

      Does it help to give money $$ to Riverside Conservancy? Donation link here: https://riversideparknyc.org/donations/

    22. Sydney Torrey says:

      I first set foot on American soil June 18, 1962 and moved to a hotel across the street from this handsome landmark. It was a part of my happy NYC existence and I hate to see it abandoned and neglected. Let’s start a fund and whatever anyone can give will eventually rescue this important monument. Let’s do it!