Volume 17 • Issue 6 | July 2 - 8, 2004

On the hunt for pictures of stolen statue

By Erica Stein

Sometimes optimism has to take a back seat to reality.

The Battery Conservancy has plans to take a bust of John Wolfe Ambrose – the man responsible for the modern dimensions of the New York Harbor – and move it to a more prominent location in Battery Park. There’s just one problem: the bust has been missing since 1990, when it was stolen from the Ambrose memorial.

Rather than attempt to find the missing bust or hope for its return, the conservancy is instead searching for photographs taken of the bust at any point in its overly-ambulatory history.

They plan to use the photos to recast the bust and return it to its place in the Ambrose memorial, currently housed in Battery Gardens Restaurant. The conservancy has a few photos, but they are hoping to find additional ones to create a more accurate replica.

There are also plans to move the memorial to the promenade, making it more accessible to the public.

Ambrose, born in Ireland in 1838, came to New York at the age of five. An engineer, he was instrumental in the late 19th century development of the city’s maritime infrastructure. He built the Second and Sixth Ave. elevated train route, but is best remembered for successfully lobbying Congress for the $8,000,000 needed to widen and deepen New York Harbor to make it navigable for larger ships.

In 1902, the channel was named for him, and the South Street Seaport Museum currently houses a lightship bearing his name.

After his death in 1899, friends commissioned a bust of Ambrose by Rodin-trained sculptor Andrew O’Connor. The bust was held privately by the Ambrose family until 1936, when it was donated to the city with the understanding that it would be part of the Ambrose memorial designed by Aymar Embury II. The bust was housed in the memorial — which stood in a wall of the New York Aquarium at Castle Clinton. When the aquarium closed in 1941, the statue was placed in storage.

In 1955, memorial and bust moved to the current location in what became Battery Gardens Restaurant, where the bust was stolen 14 years ago. The memorial was undamaged.

Conservancy intern Samantha Wilson said the organization hopes to collect photographs of the bust taken during every period of its history.

“You never know what’s out there,” she said. “There could be pictures of the bust from when it was in storage, when it was in the aquarium, even when the family had it.”

The conservancy will use the photos as guides to recast the bust as accurately as possible. “The bust and the memorial should be seen by people, and they should be in The Battery,” said Wilson.

She said anyone with a photograph of the Ambrose bust or information about its history, should call (212) 344-3491.


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