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Fort Greene Park

The Daily Plant : Wednesday, December 31, 2003

GOING TO GREAT HEIGHTS TO RESTORE A BROOKLYN TREASURE


To most people. performing site survey work in a capital construction project might not sound very exciting. In the case of the upcoming historical conservation work in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park, however, the conditions survey resembled an extreme outdoor sporting event. Two weeks ago, a team of climbers ascended an internal ladder inside the park’s Prison Ship Martyrs Monument and then used rapelling techniques to descend while taking detailed notes about the conditions of the historic structure.

"It’s an industrial adaptation of rock climbing and caving techniques," said President and Owner Kent Diebolt of Vertical Access, the firm brought in to perform the survey. Utilizing efficient, lightweight rigging systems, Diebolt and his team are able to achieve "hands on" access without using frame scaffolding, cranes, or boom lifts. As three to four inspectors descended the granite column on industrial rope, they took notes on paper which they later transcribed into a CAD program for Parks & Recreation’s Historic Preservation division to use.

"Doing this saved the City time and money," said Parks & Recreation Director of Historic Preservation John Krawchuk. "They are helping us see the condition of the masonry and the bronze and the structural condition of the entire monument." The height of the monument—149 feet—would have made the use of traditional lifts nearly impossible and the use of scaffolding very expensive, he explained. Initially, the Historic Preservation staff created architectural drawings which Vertical Access used as a reference map to plot all different conditions of the structure.


Led by Parks & Recreation’s Historic Preservation division, the work includes the restoration of the plaza’s granite column, bronze funerary urn (at the column’s top), and paving. Additionally, Parks & Recreation will install an internal spiral staircase within the column for maintenance purposes. The $3.9 million project is largely funded with money allocated by the City Council, with additional funds allocated by the Borough President’s Office and non-City sources.

The monument, which consists of a 100-foot-wide granite staircase and a central Doric column, was designed by renowned architect Stanford White (1853–1906). The monument marks the site of a crypt for more than 11,500 men and women, known as the prison ship martyrs, who were buried in a tomb near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The work represents Stanford White’s last public work before he was murdered.

Towards the end of the 19th century, a diverse group of interests including the federal government, municipal and state governments, private societies, and donors, began a campaign for a permanent monument to the prison ship martyrs. In 1905 the renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White was hired to design a new entrance to the crypt and a wide granite stairway leading to a plaza on top of the hill. From its center rose a freestanding Doric column crowned by a bronze lantern. President-elect William Howard Taft attended the monument’s dedication in 1908.

The monument has undergone restorations in 1934 and in 1976, and this represents the first major restoration to the site in nearly 30 years. The vault’s Guastavino ceiling will also be repaired, and the monument’s Eagles—removed in 1971 because of vandalism—will also be restored. Work is expected to begin fall 2004.

Buildings and monuments with hard-to-reach areas such as steeples, domes, towers, chimneys, and high parapet or screen walls are the specialty on Vertical Access. Since starting in 1992, the company has been brought in to work on projects around the country, including the Jefferson Davis monument in Kentucky and the Pilgrims Monument in Cape Cod.

Written by Eric Adolfsen

QUOTATION FOR THE DAY

"My honor is dearer to me than my life."

Miguel de Cervantes

(1547-1616)

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