Located at Riverside Drive and West 100th Street, the Firemen’s Memorial of New York City has a quiet and poignant grandeur. Erected in 1913 as part of the City Beautiful Movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the monument has stood as an impressive symbol of the dedication and sacrifice of some of New York’s bravest citizens. After a NYC Parks’ January 2021 assessment revealed that the memorial had water and lime damage, as well as some cracking on the structure, plans to rehabilitate it went into effect. Currently, it is set to undergo critical restoration in the upcoming weeks and months, after a private donor supplied Riverside Park Conservancy with the necessary funds to begin the project.
The Firemen’s Memorial has seen extensive repairs twice in its history: once in the 1930s, through a W.P.A. sponsored conservation initiative, and more recently in 1992, through a city-funded capital project. However, the most recent iteration of preservation efforts is perhaps the most significant, as it comes at an especially significant juncture in time with the twentieth anniversary of September 11, 2001.
On October 5, the Firemen’s Memorial was the site of the FDNY’s 24th Annual Fallen Firefighters Memorial Ceremony, which commemorates the lives of FDNY members who have passed away in the last year while on active duty. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the event, delivering remarks about the “crucial role” FDNY members held during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We gather after something indescribable – a year-and-a-half that has put us all through so much,” de Blasio said. “The FDNY ... played such a crucial role, protecting the city, answering calls in the most difficult of circumstances, dealing with the great unknown of COVID. And so many people here today are heroes of that fight against COVID. And so many of you are part of the reason why we are finally, as a city, coming back. But this horrible disease took from us some of our very best ... The City will stand by you. We ... can remember, we can honor them. We can remember the good they did. We can remember the way they lived their life and wish that all of us could be in any way as good as them.”
The words “duty and sacrifice” are ingrained in the structure, flanking each side of the memorial, as a visual reminder meant to be etched into the minds and hearts of passersby. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro observed to the crowd that, “Absent the word bravery, there can hardly be any more appropriate words to describe the work of our members.” Nigro also noted that, since the attacks on the World Trade Center, in which the FDNY saw its worst loss on a single day with the deaths of 343 firefighters, “More than 250 have died of illness related to their time at the World Trade Center, working in rescue and recovery.”
Dan Garodnick, President and CEO of Riverside Park Conservancy, was also present for the ceremony. In an interview with the West Side Spirit, Garodnick discussed the importance of the restoration happening in conjunction with the anniversary of 9/11. “People are reflective of that dark day in New York City’s history, and we want to continue to recognize the brave people who worked so hard to keep us safe,” he said. “And those who continue to do so every day.”
Garodnick, a former City Council member, shared his thoughts on the symbolic role that the Firemen’s Memorial holds for the city community. “This monument is incredibly meaningful, not only for the surrounding neighborhood but for the entire city,” he noted. “Remembering our brave firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect us is critically important, and this monument is a symbol of that. And because of its importance, we wanted to make sure that it stays in excellent condition.
“So we are very happy to be able to make this happen on this meaningful anniversary year of the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, he said. “We are honored to bring renewed care to this beloved monument.”
Garodnick also spoke about the community’s response regarding the restoration of the memorial, as well as Riverside Park Conservancy’s pivotal role in its upkeep. “It’s an important monument in the community, and our neighbors see that the Conservancy is doing more and more work to improve Riverside Park and its extraordinary monuments and structures,” he said. “We are seeing a lot of appreciation.”
The project to revitalize the Firemen’s Memorial began about a week ago, shortly after the FDNY’s Fallen Firefighters Memorial Ceremony took place.
“Remembering our brave firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect us is critically important, and this monument is a symbol of that. And because of its importance, we wanted to make sure that it stays in excellent condition.” Dan Garodnick, President and CEO of Riverside Park Conservancy