Lions will return under darkness of night

On the heels of the Historic City News article published February 25, 2011, the City of St. Augustine has announced today that the two marble lion statues will be returned to their home during the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 15th.

Nearly a year to the day after the rehabilitated Bridge of Lions reopened to traffic, its namesake statues will return home.

The project is expected to last approximately four hours and will necessitate the closing of the Bridge of Lions to vehicular traffic from 2 a.m. until 6 a.m. that day.

The lion’s placement will be managed from within the roadway which, while necessitating the road’s closure, will not interfere with landscaping installations which started in the area in early February. The only road closure will be the Bridge of Lions itself, although temporary detours may be implemented as determined necessary by the St. Augustine Police Department.

The statutes were removed by the City of St. Augustine, their owners, just prior to the start of the bridge’s rehabilitation work, 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. The Florida Department of Transportation provided a grant of $40,000 for the relocation, storage and restoration of the statues. The restoration work was done by Enzo Torcoletti and Joe Segal, Moultrie Creek Studios of St. Augustine.

The determination on the date of the project was agreed to over the last week as several factors came together, including the receipt of the road closure permit and the determination that the project would not interfere with the landscaping work. The project is managed by the City’s General Services Department and the relocation will be handled by Southeastern Rigging & Storage, Orlando, a company experienced in the relocation of both large objects and fine art.

As it turns out, the date is just two days shy of the anniversary of the rehabilitated bridge’s opening to traffic on March 17, 2010. The statues were removed on February 14, 2005 and if all goes to plan, will be returned after an absence of 2,220 days.

After the lions are back in place the Bridge of Lions project will still not be complete and won’t be until the installation of landscaping in parks on both the east and west approaches to the bridge as well as Ponce and Anderson Circles. That work will continue through the spring after which there is likely to be a ceremony recognizing the completion of the entire project. Details and dates are yet to be finalized.

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 the small park just east of the Plaza and the flag pole and monument base just to the north of the Ponce statue.

So while reinstalling the statues is essentially a special project requiring planning, adherence to established safety guidelines, and careful management by the General Service Department, it is nonetheless a project of great interest to the community. Since the time of day is not spectator-friendly, and the area where the installation is taking place will be restricted, the city asks the community’s support and cooperation of the operation by waiting to welcome the lions until later in the day after they have returned home.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News contributed photograph by City of St. Augustine

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