Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument (Manhattan)
The Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Monument commemorates Union Army soldiers and sailors who served in the American Civil War. It is located at 89th Street and Riverside Drive in Riverside Park in the Upper West Side of New York City.
First suggested in 1869 little was done to create the monument until 1893. In 1893, the New York State legislature established a Board of Commissioners for a monument to the soldiers and sailors who had served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Originally set to be built at fifty-ninth Street and Fifth Avenue then at Mount Tom (83rd Street & Riverside Drive) the project was delayed for many years because many organizations in the city could not agree on a site for the monument. When the final site was selected, the winning design for the monument had to be redesigned for the new site.
Ground was broken for the monument on September 21, 1900. Mr. Guggenheimer turned the first spadeful of dirt. About 200 people were present at the ground breaking ceremony. The first stone was laid in January 1901. On the cornerstone was a simple inscription saying that the monument was erected by the citizens of New York. It was finally dedicated on Memorial Day, 1902 with President Theodore Roosevelt officiating. During the dedication, the monument was unveiled following a parade of Civil War veterans up Riverside Drive. The memorial bears the simple inscription: "To the memory of the brave soldiers and sailors who saved the Union". The monument cost $300,000 to erect. Granite quarried from the Lacasse Quarry located at Derby, Orleans County, Vermont, was used in the construction.
The white marble monument was designed after a public competition by architects Charles and Arthur Stoughton. Their design was known as the “Temple of Fame.” The ornamental features were carved by Paul E. Duboy (1857–1907) who also was the architect of The Ansonia, an apartment building also on the Upper West Side. Inspired by Greek antiquity it is based on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. The monument takes the form of a peripteral Corinthian temple raised on a high base, with a tall cylindrical rusticated cella, that carries a low conical roof like a lid, ringed by twelve Corinthian columns. Plinths at the entrance to the raised terrace are incised with the names of the New York volunteer regiments and the battles in which they served, as well as Union generals.
Repairs and reconstruction
By 1907, there were already reports by Mayor McClellan that the Monument was in need of repair. At that time there were marble slabs in danger of falling from their place noting that three had already fallen. The building badly leaked, cement was constantly falling from the walls and ceiling, and stone was chipped in many places. He requested $20,000 for the repair of the monument.
A large adjustment to the monument took place in the 1930s, when the plaza's yellow brick, which nicely contrasted with the white marble trim, was replaced with the orange-colored stone common to Parks Department projects of the period. However, these have since chipped and are splitting. The memorial was also given a complete coating of protective paraffin, used at that time to preserve the memorial. In 1962, the City spent over $1 million in extensive repairs to the monument, including a new roof, which had deteriorated, and portions of the monument were replaced with more durable granite.
The Parks Department had proposed a $1.2 million restoration in 2002. The effort was to restore the monument's steps and sidewalks. It does not appear this was ever completed as the effort failed when a private donor pulled out. On July 10, 2005, the New York Times reported "up close the dilapidation is clearly visible. Pave-stones, many damaged by skateboarding and soccer playing, need replacing. The paint covering the many splotches of graffiti is tacky. And the tomblike interior, which is leaking, has long been closed to the public. Major work last took place in 1962."
In 2007, Gale Brewer, a member of the City Council, committed $650,000 in city money to a redesign of the potholed asphalt plaza south of the monument, with its three Civil War-era cannons. However, that effort appears to be bogged down in disagreement on the exact nature of the designs and was never completed. A fence was put up to keep people off the entry stairs because they were in very poor condition in 2008.
Currently, the monument has many coatings of anti-graffiti paint. The ornamental bronze doorway has been damaged by vandals. At some point the richly sculptured bronze flagpole base, which featured ship forms, wreaths and other elements, was removed.
The monument stands at the center of a complex sequence of balustraded formal paved terraces and stairs that rationalize the steep natural slopes to north and west. Its siting at a curve in Riverside Drive makes it visible from a distance, a desirable feature for a monument in the City Beautiful movement, of which this Beaux-Arts monument is a prime example. Originally, there was a planned stairway to the river and a battlemented wall to the south but these were never built. It appears that the area south of the plaza was simply paved, or perhaps treated with pebbles. On the south side of the monument are two mounted cannons. On the west side of the memorial, the back steps to the terraces offer views of the Hudson River.
The monument measures approximately 29 meters tall. The initial design called for the monument to be crowned with a statue of Peace "of heroic size" but this was not done. The sculptured bronze door at the base of the monument, now kept locked, was originally open to visitors. Currently, the interior is open one day annually at Openhousenewyork. It is entirely revetted with the same veined white marble used on the exterior and a mosaic floor underneath a dome.
It is in two stages, with six niches in the lower stage, corresponding to the exterior basement and an upper stage of tall Corinthian pilasters flanking plain panels; above is a ribbed interior dome with a central lantern. The mosaic on the floor is a star centered on a bronze relief medallion of the US arms, with crossed oak and laurel sprays.
The colonnade carries an entablature adorned with a full frieze containing the inscriptions "To the memory of the Brave Soldiers and Sailors Who Saved the Union," A cresting of eagles alternating with cartouches surmounts the cornice. The monument terminates in a low conical roof crowned by a richly decorated marble finial.
A Riverside Park Conservancy maintains the plantings in the area surrounding the monument.
Parades and celebrations
Many huge Memorial Day celebrations have been centered on this monument. The number of people and interest in the Memorial Day celebrations at this monument has varied greatly and at times has been very significant. On Memorial Day 1907, 16,000 men marched in a GAR Parade. However, in 1910, in a celebration headed by President Taft, only 1,500 showed up. In 1911, 20,00 men and 150 organizations took part in the Memorial Day parade. Then in 1914, 9000 men were noted in the New York Times article, in a parade from 72nd street to the monument. In 1922, the Memorial Day parade attracted 14,000 participants. The numbers dwindled down and in the 1990s only attracted only a few dozen people. Sept. 11, 2001, altered attitudes. The numbers grew after that.
In addition to annual Memorial Day celebrations, the monument has been used in the scenes and as a backdrop of movies such as The Odd Couple, Godspell and Parting Glances as well as a backdrop to TV shows Law & Order and Sex and the City. In the mid 1980s the West Side Arts Coalition provided midsummer dance programs on the steps of the monument at 89th street. Since 2004, the monument has also served as the home of the Hudson Warehouse theatre company. They perform Shakespeare performances on the back steps of the monument in the summer months. It was also known as a "gay cruising area" in the 60's.
The monument was designated a municipal landmark in 1976.
The New York Landmark Commission designated the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument a state landmark in 2001.
- Its full title appears on a bronze plaque on the rear wall
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- The paved plaza that leads to it was renovated in 1937 and again in 2008; three bronze cannon, each weighing 8508 pounds, are inscribed with their weight, the maker's initials (S.C.L. S. McM. & CO) and the date 1865.
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- "MEMORIAL PARADE AT THE RIVER SIDE - Army of 9,000 to March from 72d Street to the Soldiers and Sailors' Monument. 700 G.A.R. VETERANS IN VAN The Cruiser Tennessee to Fire Salutes In the Hudson - Other Celebrations of the Day. - View Article - NYTimes.com". New York Times. 1914-05-29. Retrieved 2013-05-27.
- "WHOLE CITY TO PAY HONOR TO WAR DEAD - Ceremonies Planned Today for Every Part of New York, with Fair Weather Predicted. AGED VETERANS TO MARCH 400 Civil War Survivors to Lead a Parade of Ex-Fighters Up Riverside Drive at 9 A.M. Bronx to Honor 950 Fallen. - View Article - NYTimes.com". New York Times. 1922-05-30. Retrieved 2013-05-27.
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- 2005 Seth Kugle, "Seeking a Little Respect for a Long-Suffering Monument" New York Times 10 July 2005
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- Riverside Park Fund