- Historic Sites
Saving The Statue
After standing in New York Harbor for nearly one hundred years, this thin-skinned but sturdy lady needs a lot of attention. She’s getting it- from a crack team of French and American architects and engineers.
June/july 1984 | Volume 35, Issue 4
There have been other repairs to the statue over the years, but they have been piecemeal, and upkeep has rarely been better than adequate. The idea for a complete restoration took seed in 1980, when Jacques Moutard, a French metalwork engineer and iron artisan, was restoring Jean François Millet’s Vercingétorix , a much smaller work also of copper with an iron framework, on Mont Auxois, in France. Moutard, a craftsman in his sixties whose great-grandfather was in charge of ironwork for the French Pavilion at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, began to wonder about the Statue of Liberty as he became familiar with the poor condition of the Millet work. He discussed his concern with Philippe Vallery-Radot, a French philanthropist who was involved in the Vercingétorix restoration. At about the same time, Vallery-Radot read of blemishes and corrosion that had recently been found in an examination of the Statue of Liberty’s skin. It was not hard to see what a marvelous gesture it would be—and for what an unassailable cause—to mount a joint French-American drive to fully restore the great statue for its hundredth anniversary.
In May 1982 President Ronald Reagan announced the formation of a Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Centennial Commission—with Chrysler’s chairman, Lee A. Iacocca, as its head —linking the statue’s restoration to that of Ellis Island. The commission aims to raise approximately $230 million from private sources, only a fraction of which will actually be spent on the Statue of Liberty. The statue’s restoration will cost about $29 million; fixing up Ellis Island, which is bigger, more dilapidated, and in need of a new seawall, will cost something like $138 million. Another $20 million will be set aside as an endowment to cover future maintenance costs for both establishments, and $43 million has been budgeted for the commission’s administrative costs, fund-raising, and two years of celebrations. President Reagan plans to kick off the grass-roots fund-raising drive with a nationally televised appearance at the statue this Fourth of July. The French-American Committee remains the body in charge of the restoration and will continue to raise money in France and among French-Americans. (Readers wishing to contribute may send checks to the Statue of LibertyEllis Island Foundation, Inc., 101 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10178.)
The team of experts planning the renovation became binational early on. A well-established American architectural firm clearly was needed,if only to draw up documents to American standards and deal with contractors. Vallery-Radot turned to Albert Homer Swanke, who, with his New York firm, Swanke Hayden Connell, had been the restoration architect for the original U.S. Senate and Supreme Court chambers. Swanke was about to retire, so his firm took on the role of consulting architect (the task has since grown, and the firm, under the managing partner, Richard Hayden, now has equal status with Philippe Grandjean and the French engineers). With the addition of Thierry W. Despont, a French architect working in New York, the basic team was complete.
Despont is the only fully bilingual member of the group except for Grandjean, and he has repeatedly found himself serving as interpreter, mediator, and universal conciliator. Says Robert Landsman, of Swanke Hayden, who holds the title of project architect: “We all work together just the way Roosevelt and de Gaulle did. No better, no worse.” Working very closely with the team all along has been Blaine Cliver, the National Park Service s chief historical architect for the Northeast and the government’s man in charge of guiding and overseeing the project.
One of the first major discoveries the team made was a grim one: no original drawings existed. Fires at the firm that had constructed the statue in Paris and at an office of Eiffel’s had led to the disappearance of all Bartholdi s drawings and architectural records (a few drawings by Eiffel survive). The team not only would have to learn what had happened to the statue over the years and what is right or wrong with it today but also would often find itself trying to divine what had happened when it was built.