Federal Hall in Manhattan endangered by water and neglect

Former custom house, at junction of Wall, Broad and Nassau, built in 1842

May 05, 2002|By Glenn Collins | Glenn Collins,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - A private group that monitors federal memorials has placed Federal Hall National Memorial in New York City on its list of 10 Most Endangered National Parks.

The memorial is the site of the nation's first Capitol, which was on Wall Street and where George Washington was sworn in as the nation's first president.

Washington appeared on an open-air second-floor balcony to take the oath of office on April 30, 1789.

`A hidden gem'

"This monument is a hidden gem, considering the key principles of democracy that were confirmed on this site," said Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, an independent advocacy group that monitors the parks.

"But a lot needs to be done here before it can be removed from our endangered list." Kiernan said.

The collapse of the World Trade Center four blocks to the west on Sept. 11 worsened the decades-old structural damage to the rigid granite-and-marble Federal Hall, more vulnerable to vibration of the collapse than newer buildings.

A 70-year-old foundation crack, which has worked its way from the basement to the second-floor rotunda, widened and extended after Sept. 11.

Recently, the National Park Service won $16.5 million in federal aid for repairs, which may necessitate closing the building temporarily.

Federal Hall is in need of more mundane assistance, said Kiernan, whose group has 425,000 members and opposes potential threats to national parks.

Kiernan said the National Park Service lacks the necessary operating money to protect Federal Hall's historic artifacts from flooding in the basement, which was once a currency repository when it served as a subtreasury before the advent of the Federal Reserve Bank.

Some of the building's interpretive exhibits are more than three decades old, and need to be updated and expanded, Kiernan said.

Furthermore, the memorial needs a historian, requires better security and lacks an educational program to integrate the park into the New York City school curriculum, Kiernan said.

Washington statue

The Park Service will request a $2.7 million increase in annual operating funds in fiscal year 2004 for New York City's national parks. Kiernan is lobbying to apply $1.4 million of that amount to the aid of Federal Hall.

Federal Hall - perhaps best known for its 1883 bronze statue of George Washington by John Quincy Adams Ward, the one where Washington's right hand is extended to take the inaugural oath - attracts only 220,000 visitors a year, "relatively few in relation to the history that took place here," Kiernan said.

The Greek Revival building is the latest of many structures to have stood at the junction of Wall, Broad and Nassau streets, including part of the wall itself that gave Wall Street its name.

Originally a custom house, the present structure was built in 1842.

"This is one of the nation's most historic locations," said C. Stevens Laise, a federal park ranger who is chief of interpretation at the memorial.

"We wish we were better able to present the wonderful stories we have to tell here," Laise said.

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