- 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
Removing the old paint from the interior face of the copper skin should allow it to remain brown indefinitely, since the indoor environment is not conducive to patination. But that operation, too, demands special care. “These multiple coatings are on such a thin copper base, we don’t want to do something that will blow out the copper or use a solvent or a steam method that would release any of the black stuff in the seams and let it leak out,” Landsman explains. The black stuff is a coal-tar paint that at some point was worked between the copper sheets as a sealant, and ten methods were tested for safely removing it and the paint. These included spraying with ice, sand, glass balls, hot air, and even crushed walnut shells. The final choice was to use liquid nitrogen, which freezes and shrinks the paint rather than dissolving it, and then apply a commercial paint remover to the bottom layer of coal-tar paint.
When all the work is finished, the statue’s inside will look very, very different. “It was designed as a monument to impress from the outside,” says Despont. “Now we’re trying to make it something from the inside. We’re saying, since it’s going to be visited, let’s at least try to organize it, and that’s why we’re taking everything out of the pedestal and redoing the entire tour visit in the pedestal. ”
At the heart of the pedestal plan is a hydraulic elevator that will be the largest in America. Double-decked, it will rise on a shaft, with no cables above it, and will be glassed all around for open views of the inside of the pedestal. “It’s double-deck, even though one cab is always empty either coming up or going down, so we double the handling capacity by unloading and loading at the same time,” explains Landsman. He emphasizes the dramatic effect of the big lift inside the airy space: “We’re putting light sources on the elevator so that as it passes through this space it will be illuminating whatever it’s passing opposite. The shadows will be dynamic.”
Passengers will be unloaded at the colonnade level near the top of the pedestal, and both there and at the balcony above it they will be able to take in panoramic views of the harbor. At the foot of the statue itself, one flight of stairs above the balcony, there will be a new “mezzanine” level that permits visitors who do not want to climb all of the 168 steps to the top to see up into the entire core of the statue, with its newly cleaned skin and its repainted and better-lit Eiffel structure.
The dizzying helical staircase inside the statue will not be replaced but will be given a new railing. “Thirty years afterward, people remember the grueling climb to the top,” says Richard Hayden. “The National Park Service wanted to preserve it, and we agreed.” Proposals for new staircases were originally made, yet these stairs would all have taken up much more space and required modification of the structure. An elevator up the statue proper would have changed the experience too radically, and with the stairs already so crowded, the lines for an effortless ride might have become unendurable. However, an emergency elevator will run from the bottom of the pedestal to just below the head. Riding on geared tracks like a cog railway or a window washer s lift, it will not add any clutter.