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Happy belated! Pols celebrate bridge birthday at monument unveiling

Ta-Da!: Pols unveil the restored monument and re-cast relief sculpture of explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano.
Brooklyn Daily
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Brooklyn was the last to leave the party.

The borough had its own shindig for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which turned 50 last month, when the Parks Department and local politicians unveiled a restored monument to the structure’s namesake at its base in Bay Ridge’s John J. Carty Park on Dec. 3.

Lawmakers from both sides of the iconic span boycotted the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s celebration on bucolic Staten Island on Nov. 21 because the authority had just announced plans to hike tolls on the bridge — and because a dearth of Brooklyn celebrations left Kings County looking like the forgotten borough. But Wednesday’s fete made up for the Staten Island-centric grandstanding, one elected said.

“We were kind of shut out by the MTA on any celebration,” said Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge). “They not only forgot Brooklyn in the celebration — now they want to raise our toll. Well today, we have a true Brooklyn celebration for the 50th anniversary of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. We Brooklynites thumb our noses at the MTA — we say ‘fooey.’ ”

Gentle boycotted the Authority’s celebration along with fellow borough lawmakers state Sen. Martin Golden (R–Bay Ridge) and assembly members Alec Brook-Krasny (D–Coney Island) and Nicole Malliotakis (R–Bay Ridge) — all of whom were on hand for the Dec. 3 unveiling.

The Parks Department restored a relief sculpture of 16th-Century Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano — the bridge’s namesake and first European to enter the New York Harbor. The city erected a marble monument flag pole inset with the memorial to the seafarer in 1964 when the bridge opened — but someone pried the bronze plaque from its base during the “rough-and-tumble 1980s,” Gentile said, and the city didn’t get around to replacing it until now.

To restore the monument, workers removed graffiti from the marble base with a sandblaster, and Greenpoint metal shop Bedi-Makky Art Foundry re-cast the bronze plaque, which was designed by Italian sculptor Albino Manca, a Parks spokeswoman said. But the plaque — cast from Manca’s original 1964 mold — still bears a 50-year-old typo and spells Verrazzano’s name with just one Z.

Master urban planner Robert Moses famously opposed the name because he said Verrazzano was a historical footnote with a tough-to-pronounce name, but a push from the Italian Historical Society of America and support from then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller sealed the deal. Despite the win for Italian-Americans, Moses’ Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority distributed fliers about the bridge using one Z ahead of the governor signing off on the name, and the typo reportedly stuck, according to the Staten Island Advance.

The Parks Department planned to have the replacement statue installed by the bridge’s 50th anniversary on Nov. 21, but cold weather made it impossible to affix the metal to the marble, an agency spokeswoman said.

The Fort Hamilton High School junior Reserve Officers Training Corps sent a color guard to the ceremony, and members of Bay Ridge’s own Regina Italian Opera Company sang the United States and Italian national anthems.

The celebration marked the explorer’s contribution to history, but also Ridgites’ own sacrifices to make the bridge a reality.

“The bridge did not achieve status with Brooklynites without great cost — its construction was one of destruction,” Gentile said, alluding to the 800 homes and businesses razed to make room for the on-ramps to the bridge.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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