If everything is executed with military precision, then the borough’s World War II memorial in Brooklyn Heights could have a “soft” reopening by next Memorial Day.
But the ornate building in Cadman Plaza Park will not just be for borough veterans who fought in World War II, but also for Brooklyn those who severed as far back as the Revolutionary War.
“We are going to have a memorial for veterans of all wars,” Jerome Cohen, a retired judge who is a longtime member of the Jewish War Veterans. “It’s time we did what other cities have done. In Nashville, Tennessee, the government there dedicated one of the lower floors in their state building to the veterans of all wars. It’s time we did this.”
Everyone attending a special breakfast meeting at the Brooklyn Historical Society about the future of the World War II Memorial Thursday agreed that more must be done with the aging building that was designed to be a testament to heroism and patriotism, but ended up — over fifty years later — being nothing more than a glorified storage shed for the city’s Parks Department.
The monument, which is bounded by Cadman Plaza East and West and Tillary and Johnson streets, was based on former Parks Commissioner Robert Moses’s desire to create unified World War II monuments for each borough.
In the end, Brooklyn was the only borough to build such a monument, which was dedicated in November 1951.
Even then, the city didn’t have enough funding to embrace the entire scope of the memorial’s initial designs.
What currently stands in Cadman Plaza Park is actually a scaled-back version of what had been planned, historians said.
While the memorial was used by community groups in the beginning, it was mostly forgotten about in the 1970s. In the 1980s, the Parks Department began using the building to hold their tools and materials.
But now everyone, including borough Parks Commissioner Julius Spiegel, is excited about not only bringing about the memorial’s former glory, but also expanding upon it.
“We can revitalize the Brooklyn war memorial for very modest sums of money,” said Spiegel. “We hope to set the tone by Memorial Day and get folks interested in that building.”
Members of the Brooklyn War Memorial Conservancy Initiative have estimated that it will cost roughly $12 million to restore and expand the memorial.
Private companies like National Grid have already shown an interest in supplying the funds, as has Borough President Marty Markowitz, although the current fiscal crisis has hamstrung his budget.
“I enthusiastically support the program,” said Markowitz as he addressed the Conservancy Initiative, although he said that he must temper his enthusiasm with the fact that the city has basically “frozen” 20 percent of his budget as it tries to fight its way out of the current recession.
Markowitz did say that he plans to push the repairs as a capital budget item, as well as get Mayor Bloomberg and his Commission on Veterans Affairs on board.
“I would love to make this happen,” Markowitz said.
Members of the Conservancy Initiative said that by Memorial Day, they should have invested enough time and money into the monument for a special opening, where members of the public will be able to come in, learn about borough veterans and see dioramas of historical military engagements.
It’s the hope of former Borough President Howard Golden, who has spearheaded the initiative, that the excitement in the memorial will grow with the reopening.
“This is my last project and I want this project now,” said the aging Golden, a World War II veteran himself. “I’m not interested in the economy. I am interested in one fact: that the veterans who volunteered and fought for this country have something they can be proud of.”
“This is the last stand for us to get something we deserve and it’s going to go the right way, even if I have to rob a bank,” he said.
So far, Mayor Bloomberg has not returned any of the Conservancy Initiative’s letters requesting his support for the project.