2017-08-30 / Front Page

Women's Plaza Dedicated At Borough Hall

By Thomas Cogan

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz (with microphone) dedicates the Women’s Plaza in Queens, which surrounds the refurbished base and fountain (background) which was for 90 years surmounted by Civic Virtue, a statue condemned from the beginning as being disrespectful to women.  It was removed in 2012 and the base and fountain extensively repaired as part of the creation of the Women’s Plaza.  To the borough president’s right is former Borough President Claire Shulman. The others are (left to right):  State Supreme Court Judge Carmen Velasquez; Department of Design and Construction Acting Commissioner Ana Barrio; City Councilman Barry Grodenchik; and State Senator Leroy Comrie.Photo Dan Miller/DMD ImagesQueens Borough President Melinda Katz (with microphone) dedicates the Women’s Plaza in Queens, which surrounds the refurbished base and fountain (background) which was for 90 years surmounted by Civic Virtue, a statue condemned from the beginning as being disrespectful to women. It was removed in 2012 and the base and fountain extensively repaired as part of the creation of the Women’s Plaza. To the borough president’s right is former Borough President Claire Shulman. The others are (left to right): State Supreme Court Judge Carmen Velasquez; Department of Design and Construction Acting Commissioner Ana Barrio; City Councilman Barry Grodenchik; and State Senator Leroy Comrie.Photo Dan Miller/DMD ImagesA spot designated as Women’s Plaza in Queens was dedicated beside Borough Hall on August 22, in a ceremony led by Borough President Melinda Katz. She told the assembled crowd that the new plaza honors women but is open to all as a place where people can congregate and relax. The opening of the plaza, in a public place where a controversial statue stood and deteriorated for more than 70 years, finally brought that controversy to an end.

The borough president was joined by former Borough President Claire Shulman; Ana Barrio, acting commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction (DDC); State Supreme Court Judge Carmen Velasquez; State Senator Leroy Comrie; and City Councilman Barry Grodenchik.  All of them saluted the idea of the Women’s Plaza and praised the DDC for its repair of the base and fountain. Both were designed a century ago by Thomas Hastings and remained when the statue was removed in late 2012.  The repair was expensive (reportedly $960,000) but skillful alterations make the base and fountain look preserved, not patched up.  One delight is the sight of flowers planted in the mouths of the fountain’s gargoyles.  Another is the painstaking restoration of the small stones above the three steps that descend from the base.

B.P. Katz said there is some irony in making the base and fountain the centerpiece of the Women’s Plaza, considering the statue that used to stand above  them.  Civic Virtue Triumphant Over Unrighteousness, by the American Beaux Arts sculptor Frederick William MacMonnies, displays a brawny male nude carrying a broadsword and stepping all over two figures hideous of face and with snakes in their hair, called Vice and Corruption.  They too are nude, but decidedly female.  Civic Virtue was unveiled in City Hall Park in Manhattan in 1922 and was greeted largely with ridicule and outrage, particularly by feminists who had recently won the right to vote and considered the statue a reactionary insult.  However, it remained in the park for 19 years until transported to Queens, ostensibly to adorn the grounds of the new Queens Borough Hall. It was a dubious adornment and was disregarded as far as possible, while having to endure many decades of damaging exposure to the weather.  

Katz said that as the daughter of two artists she has great appreciation for art but finds Civic Virtue unjust in its artistic endeavor.  The irony of replacing it with a Women’s Plaza is deliberate, she added.  Barry Grodenchik, who used to be deputy borough president, said he has worked for four women in Queens and has found that “they know how to get things done.”  He praised the improvement made to an area that was “lonely and desolate” but when established as a Women’s Plaza is attractive and inviting.  Ana Barrio said repair of the base and fountain by Prespective Construction Co. of Brooklyn was just one of perhaps 1,000 DCC projects in Queens in recent years.  Judge Velasquez said she’d always hated the statue and now is glad to see its old location put to better use.

Former Borough President Shulman took office in 1986 and soon decided that mere grousing about Civic Virtue was not enough; it had to be taken away.  She said the Queens location was “not an appropriate place for a statue that portrays women as evil and treacherous.”  At last week’s event she denounced MacMonnies as having “a problem with women,” and mockingly cited a statement by him that dismissed the statue’s critics as ignorant and the women among them hysterical.  State Senator Comrie referred to the current drive to remove Confederate statues and monuments, saying that in removing Civic Virtue Queens might have been “ahead of the curve.”

A ribbon-cutting ritual ended the meeting and the plaza was turned over to the public for their enjoyment on a sunny and quite warm day.




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