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.