- 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
Its structure was clumsily modified before the statue was erected in New York Harbor.
Pierre Tissier, a bearded French engineer in his sixties, maintains that Eiffel cannot possibly be responsible. “C’est un imbroglio,” he says; Eiffel was a perfectionist. Robert Landsman, an architect with the large New York firm of Swanke Hayden Connell, asserts that the shoulder was most likely hurriedly modified after the statue’s copper sheath was flattened slightly during shipment from France. Philippe Grandjean, a young French architect, counters that he has photographs indicating that the skeleton was already redesigned before the skin began to go on in New York, so the change must have happened in Paris. Thierry Despont, another French architect, suggests that Eiffel was not terribly interested in the project, and that even if his structure was altered in Paris, he would have paid no attention. Despont adds that he thinks Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor who designed the statue itself, ordered the change to make his masterpiece look better. The placement of the head was also shifted some two feet, yet the statue looks perfectly proportioned from every angle.
Ultimately, the men around the table reach a consensus over their Burgundy and brochettes vietnamiennes : Whatever happened, Eiffel did not do it, and he would not have done it that way. After lunch, they return to their meeting place, in a small office on the rue Gandon, and continue a discussion of the real problem that has brought them together: how to repair that shoulder. They are members of the Franco-American team planning the $29-million restoration and renovation of the statue, to be completed in time for the centennial of Liberty’s inauguration, October 28, 1986. By that date, if all goes according to schedule, Liberty will hold aloft a brand new torch; her shoulder will contain a stronger, healthier joint; thousands of the structural members that line her insides will have been replaced; and the surface of her skin facing inward will have the natural copper color of a new penny. A dramatic space will have been opened up in her pedestal; it will contain a double-deck, clear-walled, hydraulic elevator. All her stairs will have been repaired or replaced, and new interior viewing platforms will have been installed.
OUTSIDE, HER SKIN , which is 3/32 inch thick, will get some very gentle cleaning. Although she should end up much healthier than now, from without she will look almost exactly the same. The physical work began this winter with the erection of scaffolding; painstaking planning still goes on.
This effort to restore and renovate the Statue of Liberty, which has been in preparation for several years, has much in common with the effort that first conceived the statue, built it, and brought it to New York. Both began with a discussion between two Frenchmen seeking to make a gesture of goodwill. Both gained momentum with the formation of a private French-American committee to raise funds without the help of either government. Both encountered unique technical problems and both, thanks to the coordinated efforts of experts on each side of the Atlantic, found solutions to those problems by combining modern technology with traditional craftsmanship.
If anything, the restoration is the more delicate undertaking, for the statue has grown into one of this nation’s most visible, central icons. “It’s such an important symbol,” says chief architect Philippe Grandjean. “We must be so careful. We must love, in fact, the lady. And the way we’ve done it, I feel very comfortable.”
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.
The body may have been modeled after Bartholdis future wife; the face was his mothers.
No immediate action was taken on de Laboulaye’s proposal, however. In the meantime Bartholdi met Ismail Pasha, the khédive of Egypt, and in 1867 proposed the construction of an enormous lighthouse to stand at the entrance to the Suez Canal, which would be completed two years later. Bartholdi did sketches for the lighthouse that gave it the form of an enormous human figure with a torch in its upraised hand. But Ismail Pasha was never won over, and by 1869 the idea was dropped.
In 1871, Bartholdi set sail for America armed with letters of introduction from de Laboulaye, hoping to stimulate interest in a great statue to be erected during the centennial, 1876, in honor of the “ancient friendship of France and the United States.” He wrote to de Laboulaye before he left: “I will try to glorify the Republic and Liberty over there, in the hope that someday I will find it again here. …” His proposal was well received, and he found an ideal site for the statue: Bedloe’s Island, in New York Harbor, formerly a quarantine station, a refuge for Tories, an ordnance depot, a garrison, a recruiting post, and today renamed Liberty Island.
In 1875, with moderate Republicans triumphant in France, the project was publically announced, and the Union Franco-Américaine was formed to raise funds. It soon became clear, however, that the statue would not be ready in time for the centennial.
Starting with the four-foot-tall model, the statue was enlarged several times,first to a plaster model 9.4 feet tall—one-sixteenth of the final size of the statue—then to one-quarter size, and finally to full-size pieces. Each time, as many as nine thousand measurements had to be made to proportionately increase the statue’s dimensions. And each time, Bartholdi made changes in the finished plaster model to adjust to the new scale. This work was done at the Parisian firm of Gaget, Gauthier & Cie, and according to a dubious popular etymology to which every member of the restoration team seems to subscribe, miniatures of the statue sold to raise money became known as Gagets and, in this country, gave birth to the word “gadget.”
How was this copper shell 151 feet tall and barely 1/10 inch thick to stand up to the winds of New York Harbor? Liberty’s first engineer, Eugéne Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, proposed a ponderous scheme depending entirely on mass for stability. An architect whose expertise lay in medieval architecture and restoration, he envisioned the statue filled with compartments of sand that could be individually opened and emptied to allow workers to get around in case repairs were needed.
VIOLLET-LE-DUC died in 1879 before his system could be implemented, and he was replaced by Gustave Eiffel, who at forty-seven had made a name for himself as the developer of numerous technological innovations that allowed him to build spectacularly long, high railroad bridges using great, sweeping arches and tall iron pylons. His plan for the statue was the antithesis of Violletle-Duc’s.
The statue’s weight is borne by a central pylon based on a typical Eiffel bridge pylon, consisting of four iron piers rising ninety-seven feet and held together by nine levels of horizontal struts and diagonal cross-bracing. From the pylon a secondary framework of lighter iron trusswork reaches out toward the statue’s skin, often coming within inches of it. The skin, with its hammered-copper sheets riveted together, is backed by a web of horizontal and vertical iron belts that follow its shape but theoretically do not quite touch it. To allow for the different thermal expansions of copper and iron, the belts are connected to the skin through riveted copper saddles, with an insulating material used to keep the two metals apart.
The torch turned out to be at “definite risk of structural failure”—that is, falling off.
Hundreds of single, unbraced, flat bars extend between the skin’s iron armature and the pylon’s secondary framework, and each of these bars is joined to the latter by only a single bolt. Altogether they work as a network of tight springs, firmly yet resiliently holding the statue’s sheath to the trusswork attached to the central pylon. The entire load of the copper sheets is brought back to the pylon every 12.5 feet, and thus the statue is in effect an early example of curtainwall construction, independently invented by Eiffel just before it began to be developed by architects in Chicago for the modern skyscraper. This design allows the statue to expand and contract in the sun, and even to twist slightly, as well as to give a bit in the wind. Marvin Trachtenberg describes Eiffel’s structural system in his study of the monument, The Statue of Liberty , as an “uncanny prophecy of stressed-skin construction that would become crucial in twentieth-century aeronautic engineering (in airplane wings, for example).”
Meanwhile, to measure wind speed, anemometers were placed on the torch and at the foot of the statue. Devices to measure temperature and humidity were installed inside the statue and out. An instrument measuring the concentration of carbon dioxide produced by visitors revealed that dangerous levels are often reached inside the statue on busy days. Another set of instruments measured the displacement of air inside the statue to determine how fast it rises and how it moves. All these environmental readings were transmitted daily by a phone connection to Blaine Cliver’s office, in Boston, and to Paris.
To calculate how the structure behaved, how it reacted to all those environmental forces, 142 stress gauges were installed on different bars and elements, indicating every change in “tension, contraction, stress, and so on,” as Despont puts it. The team hoped to learn how the statue would respond to very strong storm winds, but there never were any during testing, so a computer simulation model was created to extrapolate from available data.
Working principally with CETIM, a large French engineering laboratory located near Paris, the team also measured the thickness of the copper plates, plus the thickness of many of the iron bars, and had a microscopic analysis of the armature bars done to determine their exact composition. They are made of puddled iron. Then a survey was done to determine the condition of the 1,600 pieces of armature and the 1,500 copper saddles.
The armature and saddles were in bad shape. Most of the insulation between copper and iron has worn away, permitting an electrolytic reaction between the metals that has rusted much of the iron. Exfoliating rust under the saddles has pulled roughly a third of them out of the statue’s skin. Another third of the saddles are in varying states of corrosion, and it became clear that, to be safe, all of them would have to be replaced.
The most deteriorated part of the statue turned out to be the most exposed part, the torch. It was at “definite risk of structural failure”- that is, falling off. The National Park Service was advised not to let more than two maintenance men up into it at a time, and only when the wind was under twenty miles per hour.
The statue’s central structure was generally holding up well. The shoulder area, while not about to give way, needed reinforcement or rebuilding before it weakened further. That part of the structure had been imperfect ever since its mysterious reworking during construction. Moreover, some guy rods and tie rods attached to the bottom of the pylon and its base inside the pedestal seemed not to function under normal conditions, but this was a lesser concern and could easily be corrected.
While analyzing the statue’s physical state, the team also looked at its capacity to handle visitors, whose numbers had increased 70 percent in the last ten years. The statue, which now has as many as 8,500 visitors a day, was not designed to be entered by the public and has never been a pleasant place for crowds. There is often a forty-five-minute wait for the elevator to the top of the pedestal. The elevator debouches into a confined area where, says Robert Landsman: “You get stairs going up, stairs coming down, two doorways off to the sides, people waiting to go into the elevator. Confusion.” Then there is often another long wait to begin the walk up the two-foot-wide helical stairs to the crown.
Inside the statue proper, temperatures sometimes reach 120 degrees and carbon dioxide levels are often unhealthy. And there is little to see from those helical stairs: bright lights shine out onto a protective screen surrounding the pylon, creating a scrim that makes it difficult to get much of a look at the statue’s inside. And the railing on the stairs is worn-out and sharp-edged.
The French-American Committee released a report by the architects and engineers on July 14, 1983, detailing all the problems they had identified and offering initial proposals for restoration. Since then more corroborative tests have been run and the proposals have been improved and refined. Figuring out how to treat the statue’s various ills once they are diagnosed has been the “fun of this project,” says Thierry Despont. “If there were ever only one solution it would be boring. The interesting part is the arguments and the discussions.”
The architects and engineers have “shared a kind of romantic enthusiasm,” Despont says.
Blaine Cliver, overseeing the renovation all along, has tried to make sure that every bit of the work follows government standards for the restoration of national monuments, but admits that “as with most standards, they’re not really specific.” In general, he says, the guidelines tend to be conservative. “We’re doing history work,” he says. If an original design “isn’t sound in the long term, then we’ll change it.” An advisory committee of six prominent architects who are experts in restoration—its chairman is the Honorable George M. White, who holds the title of Architect of the Capitol—has also reviewed every architectural and engineering decision.
The most visible exterior change will be the replacement of the torch, and it is a typically complex matter. The flame originally had a skin of solid copper like the rest of the statue, and it was gilded either before it went up in New York or not long after. As soon as the statue was unveiled, Bartholdi began to express his displeasure at the weakness of the torch’s lighting, which was mounted on its balcony. Efforts were made to improve the lighting over the years, and in 1916, Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, was commissioned to cut out most of the copper and install six hundred pieces of yellow cathedral glass. The result was a satisfyingly bright flame, lit from within, and a torch that has never since been waterproof. Water leaking in through the years has caused severe corrosion and has damaged much of the armature and saddles down in the arm. Most of the torch, with its decorative filigree, was made of even thinner copper than the rest of the statue, and all of it is more vulnerable to the effects of weather—in fact, rain and snow usually come at it from beneath and then hit all sides of it at once.
In addition to the flame’s composition, there is the problem of re-creating its original shape. Its form was modified when the glass was put in, an unsightly peaked roof was added in the middle, and the whole thing has sagged since. Photographs and early models are being used as the basis for plaster sculptures of the flame. Ultimately a miniature will probably be enlarged and formed in hammered copper by the same dependable techniques used when the statue was built.
As for the great majority that are going, “we started with the feeling that we wanted a ferrous armature, if feasible,” Cliver says—again for history’s sake, since the original pieces are iron. The saddles will, as before, be copper. The team doesn’t want to depend on insulation to protect the pieces from one another, so a search has been made for an alloy for the armature that will, in Despont’s words, “stay very close to the mechanical qualities of the old puddled iron in terms of flexibility, not to make the statue any more rigid or supple, and at the same time be compatible with the copper and not rust.” At first a copper-nickel alloy was considered; it proved too heavy, and the choice came down to a high-grade stainless steel or ferallium, both of which underwent numerous tests. The latter is an iron and stainless steel alloy that was finally rejected when it was found to be too hard to work. It will be used, however, for replacement flat bars.
Replicating the shape of each armature bar—every one is different—is a challenge. Since the whole structural system works as a finely coordinated unit, only 4 of the 1,600 bars will ever be removed at one time, and an elaborate schedule is being worked out so that those four pieces always come from four different levels and four different sides of the statue. They will probably have to be duplicated before they are ever removed, and taken out only when their replacements are ready. In the end, the means of duplicating them will be up to a contractor, subject to approval all around, but the engineers and architects have been investigating the possibilities. One high-technology method, says Despont, involves “taking a photograph from at least three sides at once, and those photos are fed into a computer, which extrapolates and takes all the curves and builds a threedimensional model, using a robotic arm to cut into wax. ” Landsman, however, doubts that that technique will be used. “We’ve been through laser surveying, fiberglass wet casts, and we’ve ended up in a really nineteenthcentury manner,” he says. “We think the most efficient way is to have a craftsman with a piece of soft metal come in and hammer away and come up with a template. ” Moutard, for one, has been saying that all along.
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.
There will be little visible change to Liberty’s copper skin. It is in beautiful health.
The American Museum of Immigration, in the statue’s base, has become a touchy subject. There are those who would like to see it moved to Ellis Island, which is itself becoming a sort of museum of immigration. However, objections have been raised by people who link Ellis Island with bitter memories and do not want immigration enshrined there. The museum probably will stay where it is.
Throughout the statue’s restoration, the work being done will be monitored very closely on two continents, through a video communications network linking Liberty Island, Manhattan, and Paris. Portable video cameras at the site will allow workers to take pictures anywhere inside or outside the statue. Thierry Despont describes their use: “I would get a phone call from the statue that says, ‘We’re sending you a photograph and want you to look at it,’ so I would turn on my receiver and the image would pick up. We will have the same thing in Paris and at Hayden’s office and other places, and we could get on a conference call and all be interacting at once. On top of that, you also have a printer, where you push a button and get a black-and-white copy of whatever’s on your screen. And in Paris they will have another video camera. It will not all be instant, but in five minutes we can transmit an image to Paris, be on the phone and talking to them, get immediately their verbal comments on the image we’re all looking at, and if needed they can get a hard copy, make notations, produce a new image, and send us that. It sounds a little bit like science fiction, but once you’ve seen it, you say, ‘Yes. Why doesn’t everybody have that?‘”
It seems ironic that with all the work being done there will be so little visible change to the statue’s exterior. But that fact is testimony both to the cautiousness of the restoration team and, even more, to the beautiful health of Liberty’s aging copper skin. Liberty’s head has tilted about six inches toward her right arm, settling comfortably and securely into a position that it will be allowed to keep. Unfortunately one of her crown spikes has rubbed up against that arm, denting and threatening to pierce the skin. But only the most gingerly nudging will be done. “We will change the position of the spike a few millimeters,” says Grandjean. “And we may depress the copper at the point of contact to add a slight distance.”
Some small dimples on the skin caused when saddles pulled out may be hammered flat with rubber mallets. If so, workers will always be on both sides of the skin at once, communicating by radio. As for dirt on the skin’s exterior, says Despont, “there are all sorts of black marks and discolorations that we intend to take a close look at—until the scaffold was up we weren’t able to. We think we’d like to be able to remove some of the black tar streaks that have leaked through the plate joints, but the one thing we know is that under no circumstances do we want to do anything to the patina. It has weathered very well and the copper has not softened. It is very good copper and was allowed to age in a much less acid environment than today’s.”
Landsman adds, “We don’t want to make her look like a twenty-one-yearold again. She’s ninety-eight years old and there’s some dignity there. ”