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Lady Liberty Carrying a Torch for U.S. on 100th

May 11, 1986|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

NEW YORK — There she stood on a sunlit afternoon in late April, her golden torch glowing high above our Staten Island Ferry.

It wouldn't be until the evening of July 3 that President Reagan would officially inaugurate the 100th birthday celebration for the Statue of Liberty.

Producer David Wolper said his $30-million extravaganza will be more spectacular than the ceremonies he staged for the 1984 Olympics.

But already her restoration was complete, and she was queen of the harbor, focusing attention on all that will be new in New York City for 17 million visitors expected between July 3 and the climax of centennial celebrations on Oct. 28, the date when President Grover Cleveland presided over dedication ceremonies in 1886.

Think of all the cliches you've ever heard about New York, then try to relate them to such Sunday activities as a fund-raising ride by 20,000 bicyclists and a trek by 25,000 walkers along routes through five boroughs closed to four-wheel traffic.

At 4 in the afternoon, the lower deck of the ferry was brightly alive with the red cycling vests and happy chatter of several hundred cyclists returning from the finish line. Their 36-mile ride ended on Staten Island after beginning at Battery Park on Lower Manhattan.

The purpose of the 10th annual Citibank-American Youth Hostels ride was to promote bicycling in the city, where it is becoming part of life on Sundays. The walkers on this Sunday in New York were participating in the annual Walk-America fund-raising drive for the March of Dimes.

Cheerful, Noisy Throng

As we passed beneath the Statue of Liberty's torch, the cyclists cheered. One was toting a small, barking dog in a well-padded handlebar basket. A young couple biking on a tandem towed a two-wheel cart on which a boy about 3 years old rode like a prince. His father held him up to see Lady Liberty, whose golden torch seemed to sparkle in the sunlight.

It was a memorable moment along our personal Statue of Liberty pilgrimage trail, which began two weeks earlier in the French Alsace-Lorraine town of Colmar, birthplace of Frederic Bartholdi, the sculptor who created the statue and worked for 20 years to help raise funds for this gift from France to the people of America on our country's centennial.

We felt that it must have been close to this same spot in New York Harbor that ship's officers lifted up my wife, Elfriede, at age 12 and her 7-year-old brother to give the two youngest immigrants aboard the steamship Albert Ballin a better view of Lady Liberty, who was welcoming them and their mother to the promise of a new life. As with many immigrant families, their father had arrived a year earlier to find work.

Now a new arm holds a new torch aloft; both have been replaced as part of the $265-million restoration project that will be funded entirely by private contributions.

She's Ready Now

Landscaping and other refurbishments are to be completed before the public can once again begin visiting the statue on July 5, but on this Sunday afternoon we could see that Lady Liberty was ready. All scaffolding had been removed and her crown repaired, the Bartholdi masterpiece looking as radiantly fresh as it must have looked a century ago, rising 305 feet from the base of the foundation to the tip of torch.

A new museum in the pedestal displays the original arm and torch among its many exhibits. It uses the latest techniques in providing accessibility for the handicapped. Children as well as the blind can touch and feel their way through the Liberty Museum.

The skyline of lower Manhattan beckoned ahead of our ferryboat's bow, a blending of 19th-Century architectural styles with the twin monoliths of the 107-story World Trade Center skyscrapers and new office and condominium complexes not yet completed.

We stepped off the ferry to walk through the area of lower Manhattan that is becoming a destination within a destination, the city's newest hotel, restaurant, shopping and luxury condominium complex, wrapping around the historic and financial heart of New York.

Another Greenwich Village?

Make a note of TriBeCa (that's short for Triangle Below Canal Street). The Statue of Liberty centennial year will make it a discovery for visitors to New York and help to build the kind of mystique long associated with SoHo and Greenwich Village, both just to the north on the island of Manhattan. TriBeCa is a small and easy-to-explore triangle, bounded on the west by the Hudson River and on the east by Broadway.

The old commercial and industrial buildings of TriBeCa were built as early as the 18th Century when entrepreneurs were concerned about architecture as well as utility. Each reflects the interests and personality of the original owner, often in a style called Federal Period. Now they are being renovated as artists' studios, specialty shops and restaurants, and upper-income condominium homes. Montrachet and the Odeon are two restaurants already drawing a gourmet clientele from uptown Manhattan.

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