By Gina Martinez
A new Public Plaza was unveiled Tuesday, replacing a controversial statue that depicted a man standing over two women in Kew Gardens.
Borough President Melinda Katz hosted the ribbon-cutting for the newly restored “Women’s Plaza in Queens,” a public space located at the northeast corner of Union Turnpike and Queens Boulevard, adjacent to Queens Borough Hall.
The plaza was formerly the site of the “Triumph of Civic Virtue” statue, a 17-foot-high marble statue that depicted a male standing on top of two female figures representing “Vice” and “Corruption.” State Sen Leroy Comrie (D- St. Albans), Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) and former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman also attended the ceremony.
The statue, designed by Beaux-Arts sculptor Frederick MacMonnie, was installed and resided at City Hall until 1922 when it was relocated by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia in 1941 to the grounds of the then new Queens Borough Hall. Seventy years later in 2012, the statue was moved to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where MacMonnies’ father, mother and brother are buried.
The unveiling comes at a time when the national conversation is centered around the removal of Confederate monuments. Following the deadly protest in Charlottesville, Va., last week, President Donald Trump tweeted “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.” Many African Americans said the monuments are painful reminders of America’s racist past.
Katz said the statue was outdated and this new women’s plaza is a progressive reminder of the amazing women who come out of Queens.
“The Women’s Plaza in Queens – located in our borough’s civic center – is a visible, meaningful tribute to all the women of Queens who have made a lasting positive impact in New York City and around the globe,” she said. “This newly restored public space at Queens Borough Hall should be utilized by many, and will serve as a reminder of how far we’ve come and how much further we must go.”
Katz endorsed former Borough President Helen Marshall’s idea to repair and restore the remaining structure and surrounding plaza, and to repurpose and dedicate it to the women of Queens.
The base that is the now a centerpiece of “Women’s Plaza” remained in place after the statue was removed, but its condition had deteriorated due to years of neglect and exposure to the elements, Katz said. Beginning in May 2016, the base was repaired and cleaned as part of a restoration project funded by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Katz. The $960,000 capital project, completed by city Department of Design and Construction and contractor Perspective Construction Company, restored the damaged stonework, improved landscaping, and installed plantings, new lighting and benches for public use, DDC Acting Commissioner Ana Barrio said. The site also includes a ceremonial plaque indicating that the site has been rededicated in honor of the women of Queens.
“Queens Borough Hall, a building with a strong history of female leadership, now has its own Women’s Plaza honoring the women of the borough,” Barrio said. “DDC is very pleased to be able to build this beautiful new addition to the neighborhood.
Shulman said the statue has always been a sore point for her and during her tenure she tried to get rid of the sculpture, but the cost to move it was too expensive. She quoted MacMonnies, who once said “What do I care if all the ignoramuses and all of the damn fool women get together and talk about my statue. Let them tackle, let them battle, you can’t change the eternal verities that way.”
Shulman joked MacMonnies “probably had a lot of trouble with women.”
She went on to say she was very pleased with the Women’s Plaza.
“It is a tribute to the women and all the people who have supported women in government,” she said. “It is a beautiful plaza and I hope all the women in the borough that have an opportunity to enjoy it do enjoy it.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart