With the return of the two marble lion statues from which the city’s 84 year-old Bridge of Lions derives its name, St. Augustine welcomed home two of its most famous icons in the predawn hours of Tuesday, March 15.
The statues, which stood at the western approach to the bridge from its opening in 1927 until rehabilitation work on the bridge began in 2005, were returned to their home complete with police escort. The welcome home was under the watchful eyes of city commissioners and staff, the media and members of the public.
The project started on time at 2 a.m. and was completed in time for the bridge to reopen to traffic at 6 a.m.
Nearly a year to the day after the rehabilitated Bridge of Lions reopened to traffic, its namesake statues returned home.
The statues were removed on February 17, 2005, by the City of St. Augustine, their owners, and placed in storage for safe keeping. While in storage the City took advantage of their being in a controlled environment to have them restored with the assistance of a grant of $40,000 from the Florida Department of Transportation. The restoration work was done by Enzo Torcoletti and Joe Segal, of St. Augustine’s Moultrie Creek Studios, both whom were on hand before dawn to see the statues back in their rightful place.
The project was managed by the City’s General Services Department and the relocation was handled by Southeastern Rigging & Storage, Orlando, a company experienced in the relocation of both large objects and fine art.
After the statues were in place, the public continued to arrive in small groups to get close and take photographs while many who drove past honked their car horns, waved and even slowed to make photographs with cell phones.
As it turns out, the date of the statues’ return is just two days shy of the anniversary of the rehabilitated bridge’s opening to traffic on March 17, 2010.
The lions were a gift in 1926 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 monuments in the city including the statue of Ponce de Leon which stands in Ponce Circle and the flag pole and World War I monument in Anderson Circle.
Now that the statues are back in place, all that remains to complete the Bridge of Lions rehabilitation project is the installation of landscaping in parks on both the east and west approaches to the bridge as well as Ponce and Anderson Circles both of which lie between the western end of the bridge and the city’s historic Plaza de la Constitución. That work will continue through the spring.