JFK monument busts a move back to Grand Army Plaza

The Brooklyn Paper
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JFK is back and better than ever.

A perpetually neglected bust of the slain president has been enhanced by its original sculptor and restored to its location in the northern part of Grand Army Plaza after a seven-year absence.

The city removed the original larger-than-life bronze statue of the 35th president’s head and celebrated torso, which had been ransacked with gashes and spray paint, and didn’t have the money to put a new-and-improved version back on its bare pedestal until May.

The official rededication ceremony is set for Aug. 24. “Myself, and everyone I’ve talked to, has been very pleased that it’s back,” said Richard Kessler, a Park Slope artist who wrote a book about the history of Grand Army Plaza, “The Brooklyn Mirador.”

The JFK Memorial is in the same place where a statue of President Abraham Lincoln stood from 1869 to 1895, when it was then exiled deep into the park in (believe it or not) a Civil War-related dispute. The Lincoln statue returned to a more-prominent location inside the park last year.

Like the Lincoln statue, the JFK tribute didn’t receive great treatment from the city over the years.

The monument’s sculptor, Neil Estern, has been badgering the Parks Department to revamp the monument since admirers nearly toppled the flimsy pedestal during the first unveiling ceremony in 1965. The city didn’t scrape together the funds to install a sturdier, granite plinth until 2003. But the new platform led to another problem that was nearly as dire as the Cuban Missile Crisis: the JFK bust didn’t fit properly on the new pillar.

By then, the city had again run out of dough.

Estern, an 84-year-old Brooklyn native who has also crafted statues of presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter, wasn’t about to let his work get shot down. Using the plaster cast of the original clay model, Estern made a larger, rounder version of JFK, adding more defined facial features and detailed carvings on the back.

Estern’s initiative paid off — literally. Last year, the city came up with $70,000, enough to return Estern’s new monument to its rightful spot.

“It’s great for Estern to be able to revisit a project years later, now that he’s more mature in his work,” said Parks Department spokesman Eugene Patron. “He really put more details into it.”

JFK bust rededication ceremony [Flatbush Avenue at Vanderbilt Avenue in Park Slope, (718) 965-8954], Aug. 24, 11 am.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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