NEW YORK - Perched atop Riverside Drive at 89th Street, over the Hudson and under the Stars and Stripes, The Soldiers and Sailors Monument honors New Yorkers who fought to hold the Union together in the Civil War.
But it's falling apart. From chips and chunks of granite at the base to bends in bronze and cracks and crevices in the marble above.
For John Herrold who oversees Riverside Park as its Administrator it’s "very sad," the sanctuary is “meant to be a beautiful place to remember the past and war and people who were lost and you come on here and it’s very hard to even think about that when you’re seeing the neglect and what that neglect represents.”
Herrold says the neglect represents a loss of that connection and commitment to the past.
The public can’t get near the 100 foot tall structure, which is fenced off for safety even as the annual Memorial Day commemoration Monday is expected to draw more than a thousand people to honor the sacrifices of those who have served this country.
“To have this symbol closed off and falling apart is simply wrong,” said Dan Garodnick, who is the President and CEO of the Riverside Park Conservancy.
It’s a solemn sanctuary and NY1 got a rare look inside, beyond the locked weather beaten bronze door. There are five spaces for sculptures never commissioned, and in the vast area above, ornate flourishes of green palm fronds. Beyond that, a half sphere of polished marble bounces sunshine back to the rain soaked floor.
"You can see also from the rains of the previous evening,” said NYC Parks Director of Art and Antiquities Jonathan Kuhn. "The water is passing right through this building, though the exterior walls and rooftop, descending and pooling at the bottom."
The mosaic tile, in spots, looks like gravel, but the most pressing problem is that much of the mortar between the marble blocks is gone.
"It is essentially gravity that’s holding the building together, not mortar," Herrold said.
The gravity of the problems is documented in a 2017 study that used a drone and repelling restoration experts. It placed the cost of repairing monument, plaza, retaining wall and stairs at more than $30 million.
"We’re talking about saving one of the great monuments of New York, that goes above and beyond even its original intention," explained Kuhn.
In 1900, then Governor Theodore Roosevelt laid the first stone and the monument was dedicated on Memorial Day — then called Decoration Day two and a half years later — following a parade of Civil War veterans up Riverside Drive.
In 1960, the city spent $1.2 million on repairs. According to Kuhn that’s the equivalent of $11 or $12 million today, but the monument's needs are even greater now.
“We spend so much time talking about monuments to take down, this is one which deserves to stay up,” said Garodnick who is a former City Council Member, “It deserves to be celebrated and we need an investment to do that.”
So where’s that $30 million for repairs? It’s not in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget.
His office responded to our question why not, saying conversations about this need will continue, mindful of slowing revenue growth and numerous funding priorities.
The Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget went on to say:
"We are reminded on Memorial Day of the sacrifices made by brave New Yorkers throughout our nation’s history. We will continue to have conversations with advocates and the City Council about this need, mindful that we are in an era of slowing revenue growth and the City faces fiscal challenges and numerous funding priorities."