Parks Department again misses construction start on Downtown World War II memorial renovation

The Parks Department once again pushed back their construction start date to make the Brooklyn War Memorial wheelchair accessible.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

The Department of Parks and Recreation missed yet another important construction deadline to allow the city to reopen the long-shuttered World War II memorial in Cadman Plaza Park, and veterans of the conflict are outraged at the city’s ongoing failure to provide access to the monument. 

“It’s been so many years ago that we’ve been fooling around with this here — everybody wants to know what the heck’s going on,” said Marine Park resident Jack Vanasco, 92, who served as an army corporal from 1939 to 1947.

The Parks Department closed the World War II memorial’s hallowed interior — which bares the names of 11,500 Brooklyn boys who fought and died during the conflict — way back in the early 90s, with the Parks Department blaming the closure on the tribute’s lack of accessibility features in the wake of the 1990 American’s with Disabilities Act. 

It’s nearly 30 years later, and parks officials now claim that the agency’s $3.9 million revamp failed to meet its November construction start date on a wheelchair-accessible ramp and an elevator for the granite and limestone Brooklyn War Memorial — a project which was announced in early 2017!

The Department plans to install a ramp and an elevator.NYC Parks Department

The agency’s online capital projects tracker shows that officials rescheduled to this month, with officials citing asbestos remediation as the cause for the delays.

“We are eager to get the project started on the World War II Memorial, however, we discovered asbestos material at the site which requires remediation before we can proceed,” said Anessa Hodgson. “We are preparing the site for abatement and look forward to starting construction once this is completed.”

But one local park steward has yet to see any sign of movement at the site and voiced doubts that construction will start any time soon.

“They’re never going to do it — they’re stealing the money, that’s the bottom line,” said the president of the Cadman Park Conservancy, Toba Potosky. “If they’re not starting next week, are they going to start on Christmas?”

Hodgson said that the Department hired Manhattan-based contractor Five Star Contracting for the accessibility improvements, but the agency spokeswoman declined to provide an exact start date for the works. 

Officials have repeatedly kicked the can down the road on this project, previously when they moved it back from this spring to November, with one spokeswoman claiming at the time it was because of trouble with the elevator manufacturer.

The Department also plans to revamp the building’s restroom for some $2 million, for which construction is slated to start after officials finish procurement for the project in April 2020, according to Hodgson. 

Marine Park WWII veteran Jack Vanasco, 92, can’t understand the city’s repeated delays on the project.Photo by Steve Solomonson

The 1951 memorial was built under the auspices of then-Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and is dedicated to the more than 300,000 Brooklynites who fought in the war.

Currently, only family members of the Brooklyn heroes whose names are etched into the memorial are allowed into the inner chamber, according to Hodgson, who advised relatives to contact the agency’s Brooklyn borough office at (718) 965-8900 to schedule a visit, where they’ll be accompanied by a Parks staff member.

The Vanasco brothers Terry, Roy, Joe, and Jack all served in World War II. Photo courtesy of Jack Vanasco

Potosky has worked for years with Vanasco and his 93-year-old brother, Navy veteran Roy Vanasco, and with Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Martin Maher — himself a Gulf War veteran — to bring the war memorial back to life, including possibly turning it into an educational space, the New York Post reported back in 2012.

The interior once hosted a wide variety of functions, including veteran and community meetings, art shows, and school graduations, until parks officials closed it, but Potosky said that Brooklyn’s war heroes and their families deserve better.

“These are war heroes, they’ve been waiting for so long. When we got the money allocated we were overjoyed and for Parks to sit on this money for so many years — they’re just sitting on this money and I don’t know why,” he said.