The Parks Department takes the Arch at Washington Square very seriously. So, in October of last year, when a “chunk” fell off the monument in the middle of the night, they were rightly alarmed.
The “chunk” was actually a piece at the top of the Arch on the northern side called a dentil (photos follow). The city agency closed off access and placed the Arch under inspection and nothing further appeared to be done (other than the inspecting).
Last week, the Arch wrapped up its regular annual inspection for 2013 although this time apparently they set aside an entire month to do so. (Perhaps due to the prior incident?)
From the NYC Parks Department on the recent inspection and conservation efforts at the Arch:
Working on two 80-foot lifts, the conservators are examining all masonry, decorative and sculptural stonework, and conducting selective testing of stone consolidants and adhesives on the Tuckahoe marble. The lower sculptures of Washington (as Commander in Chief and Statesman) have been gently cleaned of biological growth, the upper stories have been cleaned, and the parapet’s mortar joints repointed. Ambient night lights attached to the moldings are being replaced, and new bird netting installed at the attic story.
These photos, which I never posted, are from the October inspection.
After the “chunk”/dentil fell off, the Parks Department issued this statement (October 2012):
As a precautionary measure, Parks has cordoned off the area surrounding the arch at Washington Square Park and we procured a lift to do a complete stability inspection by an in-house conservator, in consultation with the conservation firms involved in the 2003-2004 restoration. The piece that fell was a ‘dentil’ – a decorative marble detail that lines the top of the arch. At the time of the 2003-2004 restoration, it showed no evidence of deterioration. It is not known why this feature recently detached but the arch undergoes annual maintenance including a one-week inspection this past July, where conservators cleaned areas of biological growth and soiling, and conducted selective repointing of failed mortar joints.
I’d forgotten what repointing is which I learned about at the time this incident occurred. Repointing is basically ‘fixing’ although repointing sounds so much more complex and elegant — it is fixing the mortar around the joints of the masonry! Cleaning it up and reapply mortar where necessary is, I believe, the basic thrust of it.
At the time, I spoke to two monument/architectural preservationists for a possible story on what had happened. I got the distinct feeling that there was a little bit of ‘inner circle’ protection going on; neither expert I spoke with wanted to say anything that could be construed as negative about the New York City Parks’ Conservation Department. One of the gentleman I spoke with, when I asked: “Would it surprise you to hear that a piece of the Washington Square Arch fell off?” quickly answered “Yes” before closing down a bit.
And things happen sometimes. This is true. I think overall that this department of the city Parks Department is well run and devotes apt attention to the preservation and maintenance of the Arch.
A little aside — at the time I took these pictures, I started a conversation with a person standing at the base of the Arch. It turns out he was the chief gardener for Community Board 2 parks and was observing and clearly knew the people working on the Arch. I usually say up front that I write a blog about the park, but, in this instance, I did not. If he had told me something, I might have asked if it could be reported or perhaps not revealed the source of the information. I wasn’t exactly sleuthing but I was very much aware that the Parks Department wanted this kept ‘hush-hush.’ So, after we’d been talking a short while, his cell phone started ringing incessantly. He didn’t pick it up at first but, finally, after it rang so many times in a row, he did. He told me he had to take the call and walked away, never to return. It became obvious to me shortly afterwards that the someone calling him was instructing him to stop talking to me. I started wondering if there were cameras in the Arch! Anyway, it later became clear to me who from the Parks Department told him to stop conversing with me but let’s leave it at that.
p.s. That tree in the top photo to the left of the Arch certainly looks dying or dead compared to the other fall trees. I got word that one more of the trees around the fountain died and was replaced. I wonder if it was that one.
Correction: I did run some photos from the October inspection earlier this year with the story of an alleged plot to blow up the Arch. By the way, the man accused of this, Aaron Greene, just sentenced to seven years in jail for this and other things, told New York Magazine in an in-depth profile that he loved the Arch. He said, “I loved that arch. I studied art. I never would have done anything to that arch or that park.”
Further update! They fixed the dentil. Photo to follow.
Previously at WSP Blog: Chunk of the Washington Square Arch Falls to the Ground Overnight Sunday October 9, 2012