Borough President Melinda Katz joined former borough president Claire Shulman and local elected officials on Tuesday morning to unveil the restored Women’s Plaza in Queens. The city invested $960,000 to restore the stonework, improve landscaping and install plantings, new lighting and benches at the public space.
The site also includes a ceremonial plaque rededicating the plaza.
Katz explained the history of the plaza, which used to be home to the controversial “Triumph of Civic Virtue” statue, which depicted a naked man standing on top of two women who represented vice and corruption.
“It is a statue that did create a lot of discussion over the years in front of Borough Hall,” Katz said. “When the statue was here, there were protests.”
The statue, originally commissioned by Mayor George B. McClellan in 1909, was installed at City Hall in 1922, where it sat for nearly 20 years. But in 1941, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia relocated the statue to the grounds of Borough Hall, which was just built.
“Triumph of Civic Virtue” stood adjacent to Borough Hall for 70 years.
Former Borough President Claire Shulman, who made history as the first female borough president in Queens, “saw the inappropriateness” of the statue being by Borough Hall.
“It had always been a sore thing for me,” Shulman said. “I tried to get rid of it.”
Katz said her predecessor, Helen Marshall, also called for the statue to be removed. Marshall was the one who came up with the idea of rededicating the plaza to the women of Queens.
“The borough presidents saw the irony of the fact that it went from that to a women’s plaza,” Katz said.
By the time Katz became borough president, the statue was already removed. In December 2012, it found a permanent home at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where the sculptors’ family members are interred.
Katz then pushed for the space to become a public plaza for community members to use.
“It recognizes the impact of public monuments and structures, and the significance they represent,” Katz said. “It’s about remembering history and it’s about making history for our future and our children to know the pride in which we take.
“It’s about looking forward, it’s about who and what we want to be,” she added. “It’s about for whom and for what we want to stand in Queens. “
Shulman said the plaza will serve as a tribute to women and all the people who supported women in government. She added that she hopes a fountain can be added to the space.
“It is a beautiful plaza,” she said. “I hope all the women in the borough have the opportunity to enjoy it.”
Councilman Barry Grodenchik, who used to serve as deputy borough president, said he has worked for four women in government, two of whom became his mentors.
“There’s a reason why I work for women,” he said, “because they know how to get things done.
“For a long time, this was a lowly, desolate spot here,” Grodenchik added. “But you can’t say that anymore. They really did a wonderful job.”