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St. Augustine is a city of landmarks. One would be hard pressed to find another city so small in size and population that is so rich with so many well known features including buildings, monuments and streetscapes.
On Thursday, February 17, two of the city’s most famous and most photographed landmarks were removed but only temporarily.
Three days earlier, on February 14, the tremendously ambitious rehabilitation project of the 78 year old Bridge of Lions began, but, before any real heavy work started, the two marble lion sculptures had to go. It’s for their own protection, and they will be back.
In order to ensure the lions are completely protected during the rehabilitation project, they were carefully removed by the city and placed in storage for the duration of the work. In fact, their departure signaled the start of the project and their return will signal the completion.
The city’s Public Works Department, including the facilities management division and the streets division managed the delicate task of relocating the statues.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Bridge of Lions’ was opened to traffic in 1927 and has become a significant landmark in the Nation’s Oldest City. The rehabilitation will take an estimated five years and nearly $80 million to complete and calls for the construction of a temporary bridge to the north of the existing span for the rerouting of traffic before work on the current span can begin. Once traffic is flowing over the temporary bridge, work will start on the Bridge of Lions consisting of careful removal of sections to facilitate their rehabilitation and preservation. Then when the newly preserved bridge is complete the temporary bridge will be removed. Once all work is complete, the lions will come home.
The marble statues were a gift to the city from Dr. Andrew Anderson, a native of St. Augustine who became a close friend of Henry Flagler and served as the city’s Mayor in 1886. Anderson is responsible for a number of public adornments in addition to the lions including the statue of Ponce de Leon which stands on the east end of the Plaza.
This is not the first time the statues have been moved. Originally, the lions stood about 50 feet farther to the east, but in 1988, after six decades of deterioration of the surfaces under the statutes’ bases, they were relocated.
Lessons learned when the statues were relocated 17 years were beneficial when it came time to move them again. First, a wooden frame was built around the granite bases on which they sit to protect the monuments from vibrations during their move. The actual lifting was done by placing iron beams under the bases essentially creating a platform on which the sculptures rested. That way, when hoisted by a crane, there was no stress or strain on the sculptures themselves. Once loaded onto a truck, they were be transported to a city facility for safekeeping.
Plans are being developed to take advantage of having the sculptures in a safe and controlled environment to perform any necessary repairs and other curatorial steps to ensure they will stand guard over the rehabilitated bridge for generations to come.
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After being hoisted by crane onto a trailer, the lion statues found their new home at a city warehouse where they will remain until the completion of the Bridge of Lions rehabilitation.