The Weeping Birches at the River Cafe have a reason for real tears this spring — even as other trees are already sporting buds, many of the famed eatery’s branches remain lifeless, a lingering wound from Olafur Eliasson’s arborcidal artwork, “New York City Waterfalls.”
“It doesn’t look good,” said Maureen Andariese, head of flowers and gardens at the restaurant, as he showed off several dry, brown trees in what is usually a verdant Eden surrounding the waterfront eatery under the Brooklyn Bridge.
It is the restaurant’s very proximity to the fabled span that is causing the lingering problems.
One of the four salt-water-spewing behemoths from Eliasson’s public arts project was situated directly under the Brooklyn side of the bridge. And on most days over the course of the three-month, $15-million public art project, a brackish mist lashed the River Cafe’s beloved trees.
All summer long, trees not only at the restaurant, but also near other Eliasson “waterfalls” along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and on Governors Island, showed severe damage.
When the project’s taps were finally tightened, tree experts hoped that the foliage would bounce back. But it has been a silent spring, so far, at the River Cafe.
“Just look at these three weeping birches — there’s no sign of life at all,” said General Manager Scott Stamford, as he led a Brooklyn Paper reporter on a fact-finding mission. “And this ornamental crabapple tree — it’s one of the most beautiful trees here, and it’s nowhere near where it should be at this time of year.”
Stamford said that even a few buds don’t necessarily mean that his trees will recover.
“A dying tree will show some activity — it’s a slow process sometimes — so every season we may see fewer and fewer signs of life,” he said.
Less-resilient bushes and shrubbery were hit especially hard.
“The wisteria is done for,” said Andariese, gesturing to the shriveled brown vines that are supposed to produce purple blossoms. She also pointed out the sad looking brown bushes at her feet that are usually green by this time of year.
And if the damage is permanent?
“Well, the lawyers will have to figure that out,” said Stamford.
Mark Thompson, owner of the neighboring Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory strolled by as Stamford and Andariese were inspecting the greenery.
“Imagine if the ‘Waterfalls’ were put on the Potomac in Washington instead, and they ruined the cherry blossoms,” Thompson said. “People would be furious. It’s the same thing here. People in Brooklyn look forward to seeing these trees in bloom every year, and they are going to be disappointed if that doesn’t happen.”