The Statue of Liberty Shines Again

Posted on: November 16th, 2012 by Lauren Walser

Relighting the Statue of Liberty.

Last Friday, the lights at the Statue of Liberty were shining brightly for the first time since Superstorm Sandy slammed the East Coast.

The storm, which hit New York Harbor on Oct. 29, caused significant damage to Liberty Island, knocking out its heating, power, and emergency generators, as well as damaging its docks and grounds. The island is currently closed to the public.

In the days following the storm, construction crews worked around the clock to restore permanent power to the monument, providing temporary lighting to the torch and crown on the evening of Nov. 9 before fully restoring power two days later.

“It’s not often you see the Statue of Liberty without the torch lit,” says Paul Natoli, president and CEO of New Jersey-based Joseph A. Natoli Construction Corporation. “It’s important. It’s symbolic. So it was critical that we got that up and running again, as soon as possible.”

The storm hit just one day after the statue’s reopening on Oct. 28, the 126th anniversary of its dedication. The national monument closed in October 2011 for a yearlong, nearly $30 million renovation.

Much of the work took place inside the statue’s pedestal. New code-compliant stairs were built, and three new elevators were installed, including a lift to the observation deck, making that level wheelchair-accessible for the first time. Crews also upgraded the monument’s restrooms, fire alarm systems, and HVAC systems.

“This [renovation] was about making the monument more accessible, more safe, and more welcoming to visitors,” says Michael Mills, partner at Mills + Schnoering Architects, LLC, a firm specializing in preservation and architectural design.

New exterior staircase.

Superstorm Sandy has been one of many hurdles faced by the team of architects and contractors working on the monument. For one, all materials had to be transported to the island via barge.

“Normally on a construction site, your trucks can roll on and off site whenever you want them to,” Natoli says. “But not when you’re working on an island.”

Tight security on the island caused additional challenges, as all materials shipped to and from the island had to go through rigorous security checks by United States Park Police, and all crew members had to undergo thorough background checks before working on the site.

Working within a historic monument provided another layer of complications. Space inside the statue’s pedestal was extremely limited (it is 27 square feet at its widest point), and massive steel beams providing support to the statue crisscross through the space.

“We had to get an elevator and two 44-inch-wide fire stairs up through those beams without touching them,” Mills says.

Mills and his team used laser scanning and three-dimensional modeling to execute their design -- methods that were quicker and more time- and cost-effective than traditional ones.

“It really was like a three-dimensional puzzle,” Mills says.

As work to the statue and Liberty Island continues, the island will remain closed to the public until further notice, according to Mike Litterst, a National Park Service information officer, adding that the NPS is still completing emergency stabilization and assessments to determine the full extent of the damage.

Updates on the statue's status are available on the Statue of Liberty National Monument website.

Damaged support dock on Liberty Island.

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Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

Architecture, Restoration