By Maya Mau
The controversial Theodore Roosevelt statue in front of the Museum of Natural History will be removed — but it’s not yet clear where it will be taken.
On Thursday, the Community Board 7 Preservation Committee met to discuss the future of the statue, which has stood sentinel on the Central Park West Side of the museum since 1940. With Roosevelt in the center on a horse, accompanied by a Black man and an Indigenous man below, critics see the statue as reinforcing a narrative of white superiority.
Last May, Mayor Bill de Blasio supported the museum’s request to remove the statue. The Roosevelt family has agreed with the decision to remove the statue, stating that the equestrian statue does not reflect “Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy” or “the values of equality and justice.”
Representatives of the New York City Parks Department and the Museum of Natural History discussed the park’s proposal for removal and relocation of the statue at Thursday evening’s meeting. The city has had trouble identifying a legal document showing that ownership was transferred from the state to the city but is working under the assumption that it is owned by the city. The city and the museum both believe that it is important that people focus on the Roosevelt memorial and not the controversial statue that has become its focal point.
New York City proposes with the support of the Roosevelt family that the statue be moved to a cultural institution dedicated to the life of Theodore Roosevelt, though no officials offered a specific disclosable location. The memorial to Teddy Roosevelt, which was funded by New York State, consists not only of the statue but also the entrance wing itself. In the statue’s place, the city advocates for the placement of a new set of stairs similar to those that already exist on each side of the statue. A subtle outline of the statue will be engraved on the plaza where the statue now stands. There will also be a plaque explaining why the statue was removed so that the entrance’s history is reflected upon rather than forgotten.
Construction is expected to start after approval from the Community Board, Landmark Preservation Committee, and Public Design Commission, and it will likely take several months. The museum’s hope is that the entrance will still be in use for the majority of that time. The museum estimates that the project will cost approximately $2.1 million.
Several committee members expressed concern that the statue would never actually be featured elsewhere and raised the question as to whether the Black and Indigenous men could be featured somewhere else. Others thought that the museum’s plan was appropriate and that the statue does a disservice to the memorial.
The resolution to support the removal of the statue under the terms and conditions proposed by the museum passed. The resolution to support the modification of the existing plaza as presented by the museum additionally passed but more narrowly. It’s expected to be presented to the full Community Board next month.