Neglected D.C. Statues Restored in Effort to Conserve Public Art

Several smaller monuments and memorials around town are being restored this year. One, the statue of Union Gen. George B. McClellan at Columbia Road and Connecticut Avenue, soon will be revealed after several months of work.
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 11, 2009; 12:00 AM

The general sat motionless as the man with rubber gloves and tattooed legs gently brushed wax across his nose.

Gen. George B. McClellan sat, as he has for a century, with clenched hand and stern visage, while technician Pavel Efremoff dabbed the gooey wax from a plastic tub and spread it over the Civil War figure's moustache and cheeks.

The equestrian statue of McClellan, which has stood along Connecticut Avenue NW since 1907, had never had such lavish treatment from conservators, experts said. And the general, flawed in real life, has scarcely seen such kindness from historians.

But this week, scaffolding will come down from around the bronze McClellan, and it will be unveiled as the latest of Washington's outdoor artworks to undergo rehabilitation.

As officials have lamented the shabby conditions of public places in Washington such as the Mall, there has been an effort to conserve public sculptures in the city.

As workers prepare to reveal the McClellan statue, which has been shrouded in nylon mesh since spring, the towering granite and gold First Division Monument near the White House is undergoing a $1.6 million facelift. The Boy Scout Memorial along 15th Street is getting $550,000 in repairs in the final part of a three-year rehab of the Ellipse and its environs south of the White House, which had not received any major attention since 1947.

Last year, many of the statues in Lafayette Square were cleaned and waxed and the fountains repaired, officials said. In the fall, the square's 15-ton bronze equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson and its marble base will get some attention.

National Park Service officials said the projects have been in the works through maintenance initiatives and predate the $750 million in Park Service funding in this year's economic recovery legislation. "This was already in our pipeline," said Ann Smith, Park Service liaison to the White House. "There's a long lead time on these."

Still, many repairs were overdue, officials said.

The statue of McClellan, who commanded the Union's Army of the Potomac during part of the Civil War, had not undergone major conservation since it was dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907.

When crews began the project, they found the belly and legs of the general's horse filled with water that had seeped in over the decades. Someone had once spray-painted a globe on the statue's base gold. And one of the bronze shields around the base had disappeared.

At the 45-year-old Boy Scout Memorial, which will reopen next month, the marble floor of the fountain was cracked, and officials said they can't remember when the fountain last worked.

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