Highbridge Doughboy restored after 40-year project

A monumental makeover in the Bronx is nearing its conclusion after more than 40 years.

The Highbridge Doughboy will once again stand tall — all 6 feet 6 inches of him — atop his 9-foot-3-inch granite pedestal. The World War I memorial erected to honor 21 local servicemen, which was vandalized and shipped to a warehouse in the 1970s, has finally been restored.

On Sept. 28 at 11 a.m., the monument will be rededicated in Macombs Dam Park, at Jerome Ave. and 161st St., across from Yankee Stadium.

“We’re very pleased. The sculpture is intended to be in public — not in storage,” said Jonathan Kuhn, director of art and antiquities for New York City Parks, which carried out the restoration.

The new site was chosen thanks to input from veterans groups and its high visibility.

“I was so excited to know that there were going to resurrect him and give him a new home,” said Joe Mondello, chair of Bronx Borough President’s Veterans Advisory Council.

Commissioned by the Highbridge Regular Democratic Club and dedicated in 1923, the bronze statue cost $6,000. Accounting for inflation, that’s $88,472.28 today.

Situated in a small park at Ogden and University avenues in the Bronx, the monument stood ready for action with a firearm in one hand and a grenade in the other.

“Of the city’s 16 doughboys, it’s one of the rare statues depicting fighting,” said Kevin Fitzpatrick, author of “World War I New York.” “Other doughboys are reflective, or at peace.”

Still, the monument was defenseless from creeps. In 1974, three bronze honor rolls listing soldiers killed in battle were stolen. Two years later, the rifle went missing. The helmet was dented. Graffiti accumulated.

A 2016 NYC Parks proposal to restore the statue referred to the damaged Highbridge Doughboy as “battle-tested.”

“It didn’t fare well in that location,” said Kuhn. The doughboy was placed in storage for four decades.

As funds became available, the renovation began in earnest in the summer of 2016 as part of the Citywide Monuments Conservation Program.

The statue was made by J. M. Fiske Iron Works, a major monument maker at the time. “You could order statues from catalogs,” said Fitzpatrick.

A twin of the Highbridge Doughboy in Verona, New Jersey, came in handy for making molds of the missing bayonet as well restoring ornamental details.

Work by the parks in-house team included replacing one of the figure’s hands, helmet, rifle and the dedication marker.

The pedestal had to be excavated, prepared, moved and installed at the new location. Cleaning and finishing work was also done.

The restoration cost an estimate $250,000. An additional donation came from the History Channel and a $2,000 grant came from the United States World War I Centennial Commission.

As the centennial of Armistice Day on Nov. 11 approaches, Fitzpatrick, who will be among the speakers and re-enactors at the rededication ceremony in September, said the timing is on point.

“About a century ago, there was the campaign that involved all of the New York divisions,” he said. “The casualties were enormous … In its new location, the memorial will be seen and make people pause and wonder and think about that. And that strikes a deep emotional chord.”