Statue needs rescue

``Spirit of Life'' bronze in Congress Park requires $350,000 restoration

DENNIS YUSKO Staff Writer
Section: Perspective,  Page: B1

Date: Sunday, July 20, 2008

SARATOGA SPRINGS - The "Spirit of Life" needs new life.


The iconic Spencer Trask Memorial statue in Congress Park, erected in 1915 to honor Trask, the city and its natural spring waters, requires major repair. "Today the Trask Memorial is rapidly deteriorating and ... in need of almost immediate intervention to prevent potential structural failure," said Lew Benton, city administrator of parks, open lands and historic preservation, in a report and grant request to the state.


Fixing the majestic bronze city symbol - created by Daniel Chester French, the "dean of American sculptors" - will cost $350,000, Benton said. The city will seek half the money through a state Environmental Protection Fund grant. The city covers the rest.


On June 20, a representative from state parks, a city engineer and Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton joined Benton to inspect the memorial, also called the Spirit of Life. They found almost no feature of the monument undamaged. At significant risk of failure is the north wall, with large cracks and a deep fissure exposing a steel reinforcement rod. Stucco on masonry walls is falling away. Limestone panels are discolored and broken. Mortar joints need repair. The limestone reflecting pool is inappropriately stuffed with cement. The entire monument needs to be cleaned and resealed, Benton said.


The memorial, completed just before Saratoga Springs was incorporated as a city in 1915, was dedicated to Spencer Trask, a wealthy resident who built Yaddo and fought to save the underground gas that produces the city's famous natural springs.


Commercial mining of the gas by private companies in the early part of last century nearly depleted the springs until Trask and state officials intervened to save the resource.


Trask died in a train accident in 1909. His widow, Katrina, asked French to memorialize her late husband with the Spirit of Life, which also serves a metaphor for the preservation of the springs, Benton said.


French and architect Henry Bacon designed the Trask Memorial in 1913 as they worked on their masterpiece, the Lincoln Memorial. Construction started in 1914.


The Trask memorial was en tered on the national Register of Historic Places in 1972 and is considered the cultural and spiritual center of the city's Urban Heritage Area. "If Congress Park is the geographic center of the Saratoga Springs Heritage Area, the Trask memorial is its heart and soul," Benton said.


The rehabilitation project would require review and approval by the city's Design Review Commission and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.











Dennis Yusko can be reached at 454-5353 or by e-mail at dyusko@timesunion.com.