Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 34
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
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A Light at the End of Nassau Street: Battle Monument's Illumination Looms

Matthew Hersh

After an arduous cleaning process handled by a state contractor, and a rigorous fund-raising effort by local organizers to showcase a Princeton landmark, the Princeton Battle Monument at Borough Hall is finally ready to be displayed, officially, to the public, neatly placing an exclamation point on what was generally considered to be a bright idea from the outset.

A monument lighting ceremony has been scheduled to take place at Borough Hall on September 15, bringing to fruition a campaign launched by a late Borough mayor, and carried out by others who agreed that the idea of illuminating the once-darkened monolith was, well, a bright one.

The Princeton Parks Alliance, a not-for-profit community group, took on the lighting cause in 2005 after then-Mayor Joe O'Neill made it a main objective of his term, and ultimately raised the estimated $150,000 needed to design and ultimately install the 18 lighting fixtures: 12 on the monument, with six more perched atop of Borough Hall.

Working with the architectural lighting firm Fisher Marantz Stone, and its principal Charles Stone, the Parks Alliance worked to acquire new lighting from Princeton University for the plaza surrounding the monument, replacing the 1960s-style lampposts that, according to Parks Alliance president and Borough Councilman Andrew Koontz, do a good job of "lighting the sky," but little else. With the new lights, "the ground gets lit, and there's no glare," he said, adding that the low-wattage bulbs used are good for about 10,000 hours.

The funds raised by the Parks Alliance included a special purpose grant from the state through the office of Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton Borough), as well as a $25,000 donation from Princeton University. The rest of the funds were gathered through private fund-raising.

But the $542,000 state restoration effort represents an arguably greater triumph. The monument, which had undergone a less extensive restoration in the 1990s, could have been deemed structurally unsound if action had been taken any later. According to the project's contractor, water had become trapped in between the stones, causing moisture to expand and contract the stones as the temperatures varied. Michael Mills, a partner with Farewell Mills & Gatsch, was not shy in his assessment of the structure prior to the most recent state-funded work: "There had been some unfortunate work done on the monument in the past and we had to reverse some of the things that had been done there."

After completing the architectural improvements, Mr. Mills's firm placed a stainless steel cap on the monument, invisible from the ground, to protect it from extensive moisture entering from above. Prior to this work, the monument would turn nearly black when it rained, Mr. Mills said. "Now it stays beige, and it gives up the moisture almost immediately."

With the lighting in place, "it's going to be just spectacular."

The September 15 event is open to the public and will begin at 7 p.m. with a public presentation. Anne O'Neill, wife of the late mayor, and a Parks Alliance organizer, is expected to be in attendance with local and state officials. Then, around 7:45 p.m., the monument will be lit.

That event will be followed by a corresponding benefit at Historic Morven sponsored by PSE&G, Verizon, PNC Bank, Princeton Design Guild, NT Callaway, Palmer Square Management, TerraMomo, and Herbert, Van Ness, Cayci, and Goodell. Tickets are $100 per person. For more information or to purchase tickets, call Mr. Koontz at (609) 252-0264.

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