On March 8, east villagers, already traumatized by the Miami Beach–style glass condo tower going up on formerly scruffy Astor Place, woke up to find their beloved spinning cube gone. The fifteen-foot-tall, 2,500-pound Cor-Ten steel sculpture, whose real name is the Alamo, was installed in 1967 to spruce up what its sculptor, Bernard “Tony” Rosenthal, remembers as “an awful spot,” bereft of street life, that “looked really dismal.”
It was originally supposed to be up only six months but lasted decades, until one day the Parks Department issued an emergency contract to take it away amid fears that it might topple over. (“It was a public-safety concern,” says a Parks spokesperson.) It was trucked off to Versteeg Art Fabricators in Connecticut, which was tasked with stabilizing the cube’s rusting support beams to keep it from wobbling.
Conspiracy theories abounded that it wouldn’t return, perhaps because the condo didn’t want it there, surrounded by loitering skateboarders. (One guy told the Village Voice: “You know they ripped the band shell out of Tompkins Square Park, and they claimed they were just cleaning it too.”) What has been taking so long anyway? “We haven’t been working on it steadily. It’s been more of a side job,” says Versteeg’s Marcus Schaefer. “One of our guys was in there for a solid week welding up the interior.” To make way for a fresh paint job (Sherwin Williams’ Acrolon black sprayed with a protective graffiti coat), years of punk-era detritus were scraped off. “Someone had painted the Missing Foundation logo on the side of the cube,” says Schaefer, an old-school- music fan. “They were a band from the Lower East Side.”
And though he thinks the cube’s better off after its restoration, “it wasn’t in really any danger of falling over.” Parks had just panicked because the rusted beams had thrown off the balance of the base. And after all, the thing had experienced a lot of spin-and-tear. Rosenthal, who now lives in Southampton and for years maintained Alamo himself, never intended it to be interactive. “I actually thought we would put it on this post and we’d turn it to the position we wanted it and then stick it like that.” But it was never bolted in place. In any case, “I did not realize that the turning was such a factor in people’s enjoyment of it.”
The Parks Department says that Alamo will be back by the end of the month. Schaefer says that the last he’d heard it was going to be picked up November 14. It’ll be driven to the city and later lowered into place by a “boom truck.”
“It’ll take two hours, and they’ll do it before 8 a.m.,” he says. So for late-rising downtowners, its return will be as miraculous as its departure.