Former site of sexist statue ‘Civic Virtue’ in Kew Gardens is being rededicated to the women of Queens

QNS/File photo

Workers have begun transforming the former site of the controversial Civic Virtue statue near Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens into a public green space, according to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.

Contractors are repairing damaged stone work at the base of the fountain upon which the statue — now a resident of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn — once stood at the corner of Union Turnpike and Queens Boulevard. New landscaping, lighting and benches will also be installed.

The $720,000 project also includes the installation of a plaque rededicating the site in honor of all the women of Queens, Katz said in an announcement Tuesday. For many, it’s symbolic of the removal of Civic Virtue itself, as the marble sculpture of a naked man standing atop two female sirens was considered sexist.

“This restoration project will create a fitting tribute in a prominent location in our borough’s civic center, dedicated to the women of Queens,” Katz said. “The site will soon host a visible, meaningful tribute to the women of Queens and become a public space utilized and enjoyed by all.”

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz and state Senator Leroy Comrie also expressed approval of the project in statements on Tuesday.

“This new public space will now be able to be enjoyed by everyone, and will contribute to the quality of life enjoyed by the residents of our borough,” Koslowitz said.

“It is a testament to the dedication and commitment of these outstanding public servants (Katz and Koslowitz) that Queens residents will have a beautiful, newly restored public space to enjoy,” Comrie added.

Commissioned in 1909 by then-Mayor George McClellan Jr., Civic Virtue was designed by sculptor Frederick MacMonnies and architect Thomas Hastings and was originally placed outside of City Hall. It was controversial from the beginning, as many questioned the use of a male figure to represent virtue and female figures to represent vice and corruption.

Civic Virtue as it appeared in Kew Gardens in 2007 (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia had the statue moved away from City Hall in 1940; according to reports, he hated looking at the statue’s backside while traveling to and from work every day. The statue was moved to a location near Borough Hall after its completion.

In 2012, after protests from residents and elected officials who found Civic Virtue offensive, the city had it moved from Borough Hall to Green-Wood Cemetery, where MacMonnies is buried. The statue removal and restoration at the cemetery cost the city $100,000.

The city Department of Design and Construction is directing the restoration of the Kew Gardens site, which is expected to be completed in the spring of 2017.

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