Volume 17 • Issue 26 | Nov. 19 - 25, 2004

The British garden is coming, but some wonder about statue

By Divya Watal

Downtown Express photos by Jennifer Bodrow

This statue of the city’s 20th mayor, Abraham de Peyster, was removed from Hanover Square a few weeks ago and will be placed in City Hall Park to make room for a British Memorial Garden, in honor of the 67 British victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. Local residents have praised the proposed garden although a few have objected to the design for the memorial sculpture, right.

"Art is made to disturb,” said Cubist painter Georges Braque in the early 20th century. Some Lower Manhattan residents would argue: if it is made to disturb, let it not appear in a public square.

Several residents of Hanover Square in Manhattan’s Financial District are outraged about a new sculpture that is expected to decorate their neighborhood as part of the British Memorial Garden currently being constructed in the square.

At the beginning of this month, planners of the garden removed a statue of Abraham de Peyster, mayor of New York City from 1692-94, made by 19th century American sculptor George Edwin Bissell. City Hall Park will be its new home. Its replacement — a sculpture memorializing the 67 Britons who died in the World Trade Center attacks — will arrive in Hanover Square shortly.

“And what will replace this American statue of a New York luminary? A typical ‘English Garden’ and an ugly, monolithic, clumsy black stone — one can’t call it a sculpture — made by a British subject,” wrote Richard Fabrizio, a resident of 3 Hanover Square, in a letter to Downtown Express.

Others in the neighborhood have praised the garden, if not the memorial.

The new centerpiece of the square will be “Unity,” a 20-foot tall, 60-ton black-granite monolith, gutted to reveal a polished inner chamber, which reflects light to simulate an eternal flame. Acclaimed British sculptor Anish Kapoor designed the monument after winning a juried competition set up by the British Memorial Garden Trust.

The Trust, supported by New York City officials and the British Consulate-General, is a not-for-profit corporation administered by St. George’s Society, with the Prince of Wales acting as its royal patron.

The city’s Arts Commission approved the creation of the garden earlier this year in March, after Community Board 1 endorsed it. Scheduled for completion by fall 2005, the garden will celebrate the historic ties linking the United States and the United Kingdom. It is intended as a place of solitude, comfort and reflection — it will be a gift to the people of New York, the Trust says.

“We have not had any negative feedback,” said Camilla Hellman, president of the Trust, adding that members of the Lower Manhattan community worked closely with the Trust since the inception of the project. All decisions went through C.B. 1, she said, and everyone agreed the garden would help revive Lower Manhattan.

However, Fabrizio and a few other residents say, “an assault has occurred on the community.”

“The Peyster statue is humanistic — it uplifts people. The replacement is just big — it’s industrial and totally uninteresting,” Fabrizio said. “There’s so much ugliness in the city. Why do we need more?”

Although residents have not seen the sculpture yet — they have only seen images of it — they fear that the looming black block will remind them of events they would rather forget.

“Many of us think the square will look like a cemetery. The sculpture will refresh memories of the W.T.C. attacks — we don’t want that,” said Cindy Leung, a 3 Hanover Square resident.

“It’s unfortunate that the planners of the garden could not accommodate the Peyster statue,” said Jonathan Greenspan, treasurer of the 3 Hanover Square cooperative and member of C.B. 1. He added that the new sculpture was inappropriate because “it looks like a tombstone.”

However, Greenspan said that the garden was an improvement on the asphalt-covered square. “We love the idea of the park — the park is good, the sculpture is bad,” he said.

“Sure, we miss the Peyster statue,” said Joel Kopel, a C.B. 1 member and Hanover Square resident. He agreed with Greenspan that the garden was an upgrade to the square’s current aesthetic situation but that the new sculpture was offensive. “Would I like to see him [Peyster] stay? Absolutely, but it’s not part of the Trust’s plan.”

However, not everyone sees the new plan for Hanover Square as problematic. Catherine McVay Hughes, also a member of C.B. 1, said the overall plan for the garden “looks phenomenal.”

“Why would they [Hanover Square residents] be upset about a statue?” she said.

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