A New Park, Rich With Symbolism

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The New York Sun

There was something reassuring in the way rank-and-file New Yorkers moved into Liberty Plaza Park yesterday, almost immediately after Governor Pataki, Senator D’Amato, and Mayor Koch left the ceremony that commemorated its grand reopening. They gave off little discernible sense of wonderment, and scarcely paused to admire the new digs. Rather, they assumed their places on the pink granite benches amid honey locust trees and flowering planters, and commenced to gossip or eat their lunch as though there were nothing unusual in their presence, as though they had last been there the day before, rather than nearly five years before.

Liberty Plaza Park served as an emergency staging area for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001. It was seriously damaged in the attack on the Twin Towers, but even before then there were plans to renovate this 3/4-acre park that borders Liberty and Cedar Streets as well as Broadway and Trinity Place.

The new design is quite different from its predecessor. Whereas the earlier version was arranged along a strict grid of trees evenly spaced along a rectilinear axis, this new park consists of an aggressive downward and diagonal thrust from southeast to northwest across the plot, orienting it toward the World Trade Center site, to which it stands catty-corner. Its overall ruddy hue is the result of the red granite in the pavers that cover the site.

The seating, which also consists of elongated red-granite slabs, interrupts much of the space, thus insuring that it will be used primarily for sedentary activities – there are even chess tables set 1183 1052 1289 1064up – rather than for anything more athletic. This deterrent is made even more effective by the 54 honey locust trees that cover the site, as well as two planters.

Perhaps the most immediately striking element of the new configuration is “Joie de Vivre,” a 70-foot-tall sculpture by Mark di Suvero, a longtime resident of this part of the city. Its flaming orange mass is a charming, inspired riposte to Isamu Noguchi’s similarly hued cube, directly across the street at 160 Broadway. Though New York City is not rich in public art, the juxtaposition of these two works by modern masters is so well conceived that each, though excellent in itself, is enhanced by the other.

The new park is also adorned with 500 white lights set into the ground. These will illuminate the place at night (presumably in anticipation of the area’s transformation into a 24-hour destination.)

Quite aside from the amenity and formal attributes of the new Liberty Plaza Park, it is a space rich in symbolic value, due to its role in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. A particularly poignant example of this is the re-introduction of the sculpture known as “Double Check,” by J. Seward Johnson, which sat for 20 years in the previous incarnation of the park. This famous piece of populism represents a seated professional wearing a suit and tie. Clearly he is a little harried and has had a long day.

Of all the sculptures in New York, with the exception of the orb that is now in Battery Park, this one was closest to the events of September 11, 2001. And notwithstanding it being inanimate, one can’t help but feel something of heroic fortitude in the way it withstood those events. Now the good man once more assumes his place under the park’s single spreading London plane tree, in full view of what will soon rise at the World Trade Center site. There is something peculiarly satisfying in this sculpture’s return. Like the park itself, this seated figure extends beyond itself and the stated intentions of its creation, to suggest hope, the possibility of renewal and the restitution of much that has been lost.


The New York Sun

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