By Michael McDowell
It often seems that entropy prevails in New York City, and nowhere is its triumph more visible than on the wizened faces and slumped lines of the city’s many monuments. At 100th Street and Riverside Drive, however, the Riverside Park Conservancy is fighting back against disorder and decay, and funding the restoration of one of the Upper West Side’s prettiest monuments: the Firemen’s Memorial.
The Firemen’s Memorial is dedicated to those who “died at the call of duty, soldiers in a war that never ends.” Devastating fires were—and are—a reality of urban life, and while the horrific fires which in part motivated the construction of the memorial in the first place have faded into the past, the events of 9/11 renewed the respect accorded to the fallen heroes of New York City’s Fire Department.
“We wanted to get this work done in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of 9/11,” explained Riverside Park Conservancy head Dan Garodnick. “The work began in October, and they’re nearly done with the first phase–the repointing of the joints [which stabilize the monument] and the cleaning of the bronze plaque and statues. In the spring of 2022, phase two will include more masonry work and touch-ups on the stairs.”
It’s all thanks to an anonymous donor, who contributed $50,000 to the Conservancy to support the equipment necessary for the work, which is being performed by the New York City Parks Department.
In fact, this is not the first time the Firemen’s Memorial, which was dedicated in 1913, has been restored, and some West Siders may remember a time when the Memorial “lay in pieces.” Back then, in the early 1990s, it was the “most deteriorated monument in Riverside Park.” In far better shape today, the Memorial is the site of well-attended annual 9/11 services.
Situated amidst a green strip of Riverside Park and encircled by Riverside Drive on both sides, the Memorial is composed of a large terrace, at the center of which is the monument itself, a “sarcophagus-like structure” with an enormous bronze relief. On the Park-facing front of the Memorial, a working fountain spouts water, which fills a basin in warmer months.
The Rag observed the Parks crew at work, and considered the slow and meticulous effort required to restore one single piece of New York to its meaningful magnificence.
It takes an awful lot to keep this place running, but, in the end, it’s worth it.