Statue of Liberty's renovated crown to reopen this weekend

NEW YORK Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:08pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The crown of the Statue of Liberty will reopen to the public on Sunday - the 126th anniversary of its dedication - after a year-long renovation to make the New York landmark safer and more accessible to people in wheelchairs.

The $30 million renovation of the statue, which towers over Liberty Island in New York Harbor, improved fire alarms, sprinkler systems and exit routes to bring Lady Liberty in line with New York City safety codes, the National Park Service said.

There are also more stairs than ever before, with a daunting 393 steps to the crown, where there were previously 354 slightly steeper steps. Wheelchair accessible elevators inside the pedestal bring visitors to just below Lady Liberty's sandals.

The statue is 151 feet from base to torch. It sits atop the 89-foot (27-meter) tall stone pedestal, which sits on a 65-foot (20-meter) tall foundation in the shape of a star.

There is no wheelchair access inside the body of the statue.

A new air-conditioning system will cool the interior of the copper-clad monument, which previously could get up to 20 degrees hotter than outdoors at the height of summer. And the bathrooms have been upgraded for the first time since the 1980s.

Visitors in wheelchairs, who could view the statue only from the ground before, can now ascend to the top of statue's pedestal and see inside the structure.

About 3.5 million people visit Liberty Island every year, although most do not go inside the statue, park officials say. With the improvements, an additional 26,000 will be able to ascend to the crown each year.

The statue, a gift from France to the United States, was dedicated in 1886 and declared a national monument in 1924. In 2009, the crown was reopened to the public for the first time since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Todd Eastham)

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