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Historic sites Federal Hall, Grant’s Tomb need upgrades

Cracked walls, peeling paint and a rust-water-stained rotunda are among the deteriorating conditions that greet visitors at Federal Hall.

The statue of George Washington outside Federal Hall

The statue of George Washington outside Federal Hall in lower Manhattan, on Tuesday, March 6, 2018. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

Federal Hall in lower Manhattan, one of the country’s cherished treasures and where George Washington was inaugurated in 1789, is now a decaying landmark.

Cracked walls, peeling paint and a rust-water-stained rotunda are among the deteriorating conditions that greet nearly 300,000 visitors who come there to learn about American history.

The stone exterior of this historic building is chipped, its stone arches and marble floors are damaged, and its columns are fractured, moldy and discolored.

The building, on Wall Street, is one of 23 New York national treasures in dire need of a $1 billion maintenance upgrade and plans are underway to restore the national treasure.

Last week, both Republicans and Democrats introduced the National Park Restoration Act, an $11 billion allocation to fund maintenance repairs for all of the nation’s parks, buildings, campgrounds, trails and water systems. The vote for the restoration bill hasn’t yet been scheduled.

The price tag for the Federal Hall maintenance is $4.3 million.

The condition of Federal Hall “does not reflect the quality we would expect,” said Andis Woodlief of Westchester, who works near Wall Street and popped in to visit Federal Hall in between meetings last week.

“I read with great interest [Ron] Chernow’s ‘Hamilton,’ and now I am halfway through his book on Grant, and as a New Yorker, an American, we should hold up the legacy of the country which started right here,” she said.

“A lot of people think of Boston and Philadelphia where the United States of America began,” said Renee Barnes of the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy.

“But it all started here and this building needs to be memorialized. It is just as deserving of recognition and celebration like the monuments in Washington, D.C.,” said Barnes.

Federal Hall was built in 1842, after the original brick building where Washington took the oath of office was torn down. Washington’s famous statue, which stands at Wall and Broad streets is at the exact height where he stood on a balcony of the original building.

Another landmark on the list to undergo renovations is the General Grant National Memorial, also known as Grant’s Tomb, on Riverside Drive in upper Manhattan. A moldy, humid smell emanates from inside the memorial, where the Civil War general Ulysses Grant and former president is entombed.

Built in 1897, the memorial today has to be repainted, its front steps resurfaced, and the broken blue slate stone path that surrounds the mausoleum must be fixed.

The price tag to repair Grant’s mausoleum is $777,355.

“This is a crisis,” said Cortney Worrall of the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit group that monitors the infrastructure of national parks and monuments, and raises private donations for their upkeep.

At Federal Hall, tourist Sebastian Pou of Madrid said: “This is the third time this year I am here in New York. I love New York, but I never knew this building existed and that it is such an important historical place — it needs more [exhibits] to tell that story.”

Barnes said that the condition of the building makes it difficult to install more exhibits and provide educational programs.

“George Washington was inaugurated here — this is really where we put the meat on the bones on how this country began,” said Barnes.

Recently, the conservancy raised $100,000 to caulk the front steps of Federal Hall. “Whenever it rained, the water would go into the basement,” she said.

Meanwhile, Barnes said a summer “virtual theatrical experience” will tell the story of Federal Hall. “It will take people back into history.”

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