By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The Madison Square Park Conservancy officially broke ground at the Eternal Light Memorial Flagstaff on the renovation project to create an entrance by the monument last Thursday. The project, the budget for which is $2 million, is expected to be completed in time for the centenary of Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I, on November 11.
The renovations are part of Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver’s “Parks Without Borders” initiative intended to open up park edges and create inviting entrances into city parks. The plan is also part of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program and the Department of Transportation’s ongoing effort to enhance safety around parks and public plazas. The adjustments at the monument are meant to enhance pedestrian circulation and safety at the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue by directly aligning the new entrance with the 24th Street crosswalk. The project will also give the memorial increased prominence in the park in honor of the veteran community.
The renovations will include demolishing the pavers and fencing around the memorial’s base and constructing a new plaza, as well as installing new gardens, fencing and benches around the plaza. The pavers and electrical infrastructure around the southern end of the park will be replaced and upgraded as part of the renovations.
The project is funded in part by a $400,000 grant from the New York Life Insurance Company and the Conservancy is working with the United War Veterans Council to raise the rest of the funds through private donors, the city and the City Council. Former City Councilmembers Dan Garodnick and Rosie Mendez, as well as current Councilmembers Keith Powers and Carlina Rivera have all contributed funding for the project, as well as Council Speaker Corey Johnson. The Department of Parks and Recreation is working in partnership with the Conservancy on the project, in addition to contributions from the Government of Flanders, Belgium, because of the city’s significance during World War I.
The monument was originally dedicated in the park on Armistice Day in 1923 to commemorate the return of US troops after World War I and is now the location of the largest annual Veterans Day Parade in the country, beginning each year with a wreath-laying, Taps and a 21-gun salute at the flagstaff.
Jonathan Kuhn, director of arts and antiquities for the Parks Department, said at the groundbreaking that Madison Square Park was actually originally designed to be a parade ground where the military would perform exercises, making it an especially appropriate space for the monument. Kuhn also touted Silver’s Parks Without Borders program, which aims to make city parks more accessible and inviting.
“This comes at a time when we’re talking too much about building walls between people,” Kuhn said. “But we’re talking in the Parks system is about taking down fences, taking down physical barriers and taking down psychological barriers between us and making parks more welcoming places.”