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Cover Story - December 2004

Award of Merit - Restoration

Washington Arch

It's not easy to restore one of the nation's most recognizable landmarks, built by one of its most celebrated architects, and do it in full view of thousands of notoriously opinionated New Yorkers. But it's such high-pressure conditions that produce diamonds.

The awards jury praised the restoration of the Washington Arch in Washington Square Park for handling this pressure and bringing back the luster of one of New York's architectural jewels. The yearlong, $2.7 million project has returned the arch body to its original state and repaired both statues of George Washington.

Designed by Stanford White and modeled on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the arch was built to commemorate the centenary of George Washington's inauguration. It has stood at the foot of Fifth Avenue welcoming visitors to the park and Greenwich Village for more than 100 years.


But the 20th Century was not kind to the arch. Mother Nature, vandals, and pigeons have little respect for architectural icons, and by the early 1990s, the city had to cordon off public access to the arch as a safety precaution.

The challenge for the restoration team was to seamlessly integrate modern materials and techniques with the original materials of the arch. The team cleaned the surfaces using microabrasive techniques, while applying an antigraffiti coating to the base. It also filled in fissures in the marble with a mortar compound that matched the look of the aged structure.

The team had to repair or replace almost half of the delicate marble rosettes adorning the underside of the arch with cast stone rosettes mortared and pinned into place. It also had a chore at the frieze level, including repairs to a marble dutchman. A stone carver first modeled it in clay and carved it on the ground. He then fit it into place, completing fine tooling and staining to match surrounding stone.

There was also an upgrade deemed essential for a landmark in the 24-hour metropolis. The teams installed monumental lighting so that nocturnal New Yorkers can enjoy the restored arch. "The lighting works tremendously, and the restoration overall worked very well," said a judge.

In addition to the exterior work, the team had to pin and replaster a dilapidated, Guastivino-designed spiral staircase. The crews had to carefully remove efflorescence from brick walls in the attic space. To prevent future damage by pigeons, they installed bird netting on the frieze undetectable from the ground.

Most important, the arch's namesake got not one but two complete makeovers. There are two statues of him on the arch. On the eastern column there is Washington as commander-in-chief and on the western column is the rendering of him as president. The flawless reconstruction of the badly damaged faces on both statues would make a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon proud. The team also replaced the right hand of the president statue with one carved in Dover marble to match the original.

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