Statue of Liberty to reopen in July with better security

Public will be restricted to base under figure's feet

March 31, 2004|By John J. Goldman | John J. Goldman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK - The Statue of Liberty, one of the world's most recognized symbols of freedom, will reopen in July after extensive security upgrades - but visitors still won't be allowed to climb to its crown.

Authorities closed the 118-year-old national monument immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"This impressive statue has always been a beacon to our shores. Unfortunately, she also has been a symbol to the darker forces of terrorism," Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton said at a news conference yesterday on Liberty Island, where she announced renewed public access to the statue.

Lady Liberty, Norton said, was a target before 9/11 and continues to be one. "We're proceeding cautiously with the safety of citizens and the preservation of that wonderful statue as our goal," she said.

Since the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon, the Interior Department has spent $19.6 million to upgrade security at the thin-skinned, copper monument that dominates the entrance to New York Harbor.

New fire alarm and containment systems have been installed, and a special escape stairway to the ground from the statue's base is being constructed. Helicopters and patrol boats with thermal imaging and night vision capacity also now guard a restricted water zone around Liberty Island.

Security has been so tight since the island reopened to the public Dec. 20, 2001, that even wristwatches are scanned before people can board the ferry for the brief ride from Manhattan. Once on the island, visitors have been kept to a wide perimeter around the statue.

Starting in late July, however, the public will be allowed to enter an observation area atop the statue's base, where they can view the harbor and Manhattan's skyline. The pedestal will contain exhibits, including life-size copper replicas of Lady Liberty's head and feet.

Visitors also will be able to gaze upward through a new 3-inch-thick glass ceiling in the statue's base at the intricate latticework of beams supporting the interior of the monument.

But Norton said the practice of allowing people to climb the narrow, winding staircase - originally designed for use by a light keeper and maintenance personnel - into Lady Liberty's crown will continue to be forbidden, perhaps permanently.

In a statement, Democratic Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, whose district includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens, called for the monument's complete reopening.

"Before Sept. 11, visitors were able to ascend all the way to the Statue of Liberty's head. Today, the Park Service says she'll reopen, but visitors will get no higher than the soles of her feet," he said. "That's hardly a restoration of Lady Liberty's pre-Sept. 11 glory."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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