Volume 74, Number 44 | March 09 - 15, 2005

Where’s the cube?

By Albert Amateau

“I don’t know if you guys know about this,” said the anxious man on the phone to The Villager late Tuesday afternoon. “The cube is gone.”

A skeptical reporter began phoning around. The desk sergeant at the Ninth Precinct thought it was still there. The press representative at the Department of Transportation quipped that it might be covered in snow but he promised to check it out. Finally, a man who answered the phone at Astor Wines and Liquors on Astor Pl. looked out the window. “Oh, yeah. It’s gone. I hadn’t noticed.”

It was true. The big black sculpture, The Alamo, by Tony Rosenthal, was missing from the triangle at Astor Pl. and Fourth Ave. where is has perched on one of its corners for 37 years, an icon at the entrance to the East Village.

It wasn’t stolen and it’s coming back in a few weeks after a restoration and repair by the Department of Parks and Recreation.

“The City has not forgotten The Alamo,” Adrian Benepe, Commissioner of Parks, said in a statement to The Villager. “With the assistance of the Mayor’s Office and the Art Commission, we are working to give it emergency stabilization with funding provided by the Department of Transportation, the custodian of the artwork. It will be returned to Astor Place better than ever.”

The sculpture, which was able to rotate when pushed by a strong person or two, was made immovable because of a broken pivot in the base. But enthusiastic New York University and Cooper Union students and others persist in trying, and when they push hard enough the whole cube tilts and threatens to topple.

Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3, prodded the city at the end of last year to pay closer attention to The Alamo. Transportation and Parks did an inspection and declared an emergency. So a $5,000 contract was made with Don Lippincott, a conservator who restored The Alamo about 20 years ago, to work with the sculptor on the project.

Some passersby stopped by The Villager did not notice the cube was missing — even officials at Cooper Union, across the street. “It’s right there…” Robert Hawks, Cooper’s vice president for business affairs, started to say before turning around. “Holy [crap]! It’s not there.” Hawks called over several of his colleagues who were equally surprised.

But Ana Czyz, a high school student, said, “I am shocked and I am horrified.” She had noticed a crane and two flat beds take the sculpture away at 7:30 a.m. and returned in the afternoon hoping to see it returned.

Gwen Deely, who lives on 20th St., came to photograph the cube in the falling snow. “I have been coming here for two years to catch it in different light and different weather,” she said, disappointment written all over her face.

Straphangers coming out of the Astor Pl. subway did not realize it was missing. “It’s been there forever and I have been looking at it all my life,” said Dan Saccardi, who lives on Ninth St. and First Ave. “I guess I just took it as part of Astor Pl. and did not even notice that it’s not there.”

Ben Bronfman, who lives nearby and graduated recently from N.Y.U., said his girlfriend had phoned him at work to tell him the cube was gone. “I was very upset,” he said. “My mother went to N.Y.U. when the cube first came here and she told me about it.”

Warner Johnston, a Parks spokesperson said he could not say exactly when The Alamo would return to Astor Pl. “We think it won’t be more than a few weeks. It will be able to spin when it comes back.”

With reporting by Aman Singh and Jennifer Weisbord
Villager file photo by Josh Argyle

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