Saratoga Park War Memorial
In 1895 the City of Brooklyn purchased the property for Saratoga Square from James and Emeline Browne for the purposes of a public park. Located in the Twenty-Fifth Ward, the land, which had served as an ad hoc circus and recreation grounds, was improved over the next eight years, and being the largest such amenity in the immediate vicinity, became well-used by the community. The park derives its name from one of the adjacent streets, Saratoga Avenue, which in turn is one of a number of north-south streets in this part of Brooklyn, which are named for significant towns and cities in New York State.
In 1920 the Citizen’s Memorial Committee of Districts 31 and 32 commissioned at a cost of $5,500 Italian-American sculptor James Novelli (1885-1940) to create this monument to the heroic dead from the neighborhood who had given their lives in combat during World War I. Novelli created a bronze relief allegorical female figure holding a palm frond, and supporting a shield—symbols of peace and war. It was cast by Roman Bronze Works, then based in Brooklyn. The relief was installed on a 9’6”-high stele, with two flanking stones, of Milford pink granite, to which were attached bronze honor rolls listing the servicemen who had paid the supreme sacrifice. The monument was dedicated in 1921.
The sculptor Novelli, was born in Sulmona, a province of Aquila, Italy in 1885. His family settled in New York when he was five years old, and at an early age he impressed his teachers at PS 23 with his natural artistic skill. Novelli returned to Italy in 1903 to study, and while a student, earned an honorable mention for his artwork submitted to the International Exposition in Paris, France in 1906. He graduated from the Royal Academy of Rome in 1908.
Returning to New York, where he resided at West 23rd Street in Manhattan, Novelli was much in demand as a sculptor of funereal and public monuments. Besides this monument he also created the Clason Point War Memorial (1928) in the Bronx, the Winfield War Memorial (1926), Queens, and bronze mausoleum doors in Calvary Cemetery (1923) for which he won the Henry O. Avery Prize for sculpture. In the 1930s Novelli worked on the parks monuments conservation crew, and even helped to make repairs in 1937 on his Saratoga War Memorial. However, during the Great Depression, his own artistic career languished, and growing increasingly dispondent, Novelli tragically took his own life in 1940.
Novelli’s sculpture also met an untimely demise. On September 24, 1970 the honor rolls were reported stolen, and on April 20, 2000 the sculpture was stolen. A police investigation helped recover numerous pieces of the sculpture at local scrap yards. Several suspects were apprehended, but lack of eye-witnesses caused the charges against these defendants to be dropped. In 2013-14 the City funded a capital project that recreated the long missing bronze honor rolls and relief sculpture based on historical photographs and reference to recovered remnants. The pedestal was reset on a new concrete foundation, centrally located, and this historic memorial was restored to its former glory as an object of local civic pride and remembrance.