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Fiorello La Guardia Statue

La Guardia Gardens

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Unveiled in 1994, this dynamic sculpture of Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia (1882–1947) is by the well-known sculptor Neil Estern (b. 1926). La Guardia, the son of a United States Army bandleader, was born on December 11, 1882, at 177 Sullivan Street in Manhattan’s Little Italy.

He received his law degree from New York University, was admitted to the Bar in 1910, and became the nation’s first Italian-American Congressman in 1916. La Guardia held various congressional posts until 1932, and served as president of New York City’s Board of Aldermen from 1920 to 1921.

In 1933, La Guardia, later nicknamed “Little Flower,” (translation of fiorello) was elected mayor on a reform Fusion ticket following the scandals that had forced Mayor James J. (“Beau James”) Walker (1881–1946) from office. He was inaugurated on New Year’s Day 1934. Over the next 12 years, La Guardia left his distinctive mark on City politics. He unified the public transit system, consolidated and centralized much of City government, cracked down on illegal gambling, and constructed numerous bridges, parks, and airports. He appointed Robert Moses (1888–1981), the first commissioner of a unified Parks Department in 1934, and embarked on an unprecedented expansion of the New York City parks system throughout the 1930s and early 1940s. During his third term, 1942 to 1945, Gracie Mansion became the official residence of New York City’s mayors.

La Guardia also served as Director of the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense from 1941 to 1942. Shortly after leaving office in 1945, La Guardia became Director General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. La Guardia is remembered for his passionate leadership in defense of social causes. He died on September 20, 1947.

In the early 1990s, the Friends of La Guardia Place raised funds to renovate the barren public plazas along the east side of the street. The buildings along this stretch had been razed decades earlier to make way for the never built Fifth Avenue South connector to the unrealized Lower Manhattan Expressway. As part of these landscape improvements, the Friends commissioned this sculpture of La Guardia for the neighborhood in which he was raised.

Having considered the designs of several artists, the monument committee selected Neil Estern’s active full-figure representation, in which La Guardia is shown gesticulating in mid-stride, with his mouth wide open in speech. Brooklyn-based sculptor Estern, formerly President of the National Sculpture Society, also created the statue of John F. Kennedy in Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, as well as a sculpture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and their dog Fala, at the FDR Memorial in Washington, D. C.

On October 19, 1994 the LaGuardia sculpture was formally dedicated in a ceremony presided over by Al McGrath, the late president of the Friends of La Guardia Place. Participants included included L. Jay Oliva, president of New York University, and four mayors, Abraham D. Beame (served 1974-1977), Edward I. Koch (served 1978-1989), David N. Dinkins (served 1990-1993), and Mayor Giuliani (served 1994-2001).

Thursday, Dec 20, 2001

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