Vallone wants statue kept in Kew Gardens

Statue of Civic Virtue
Photo by Rebecca Henely
By Steve Mosco

A controversial Borough Hall statue that some have labeled as sexist might be moved from Queens to Brooklyn, according to an Astoria councilman who would rather the stone structure stay firmly planted in place.

City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) spoke to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services about “The Triumph of Civic Virtue,” a statue looming large over Queens Boulevard in Kew Gardens, asking them to restore the neglected sculpture.

The statue, depicting a nude man personifying civic virtue standing over the two sisters of vice and corruption, has stood outside Borough Hall since the 1940s after Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia moved it from City Hall, where it supposedly offended him.

“I was told by the administration that they intend to move the state to a private cemetery in Brooklyn,” Vallone said. “This statue belongs to us and it should be restored to its former glory.”

According to Vallone, DCAS plans to transfer the statue to Green-Wood Cemetery, where descendants of the statue’s sculptor, Frederick MacMonnies, are buried. And although DCAS denies that its plans are set in stone, Vallone said he was told on numerous occasions by the administration that the statue is not long for Queens.

DCAS released a statement last week saying “the city is looking into options that preserve the sculpture and best serve the community.”

Criticism of the statue from the LaGuardia days crossed the river right along with it, as former Borough President Claire Shulman tried to get it moved and former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner called the statue “offensive” to women — prior to his sexting scandal.

Dismissing the complaints of some about the theme of the statue, Vallone said “people need to lighten up.” The councilman said the statue portrays mythology and anyone who thinks it is sexist must also think all of the classic statues of Greek mythology are anti-women.

“It depicts virtue triumphing over vice and corruption,” said Vallone. “And present-day government could learn a lot from that.”

Vallone said the bias against the statue is precisely what has allowed it to decay for all these years, a condition which affects Queens at large.

“You cannot even imagine a statue in Central Park being allowed to decay like this and then be given up to a private location on permanent loan,” he said.

Borough President Helen Marshall said if the statue is moved, she would like to see it replaced with a public plaza and sitting area honoring a woman or women from Queens.

“The statue of Civic Virtue has been an on-and-off-again controversy almost since the time it was unveiled 90 years ago at City Hall,” Marshall said. “While recognized and embraced as a work of art by a renowned sculptor, its depiction of the male Civic Virtue towering over females depicted as vice and corruption was not.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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