City to Remove Trees Endangering Spirit of Life in Congress Park

2014_Spirit of Life_Bird's Eye View Concept Plan_Martha Lyon Landscape Architecture_SMALLWith the centennial of the Spirit of Life and Spencer Trask Memorial sixteen months away in June 2015, the City of Saratoga Springs is starting physical restoration work at the site.  Trees in Congress Park behind the Memorial are being removed because they are in decline and pose a risk to the Spirit of Life and the masonry architectural surround.  This danger was highlighted by a 2011 Tree Risk Assessment conducted by Finch Forest Management of Glens Falls.  A total of thirty trees were measured, mapped and tagged.  Trees were examined for defects, including decay, cracks, root problems, weak branch unions, poor architecture and dead and broken sections.  Seventeen trees were found to represent a high risk – that is, have the potential in a severe storm to hit the sculpture or the masonry architectural surround.  “Given their age and declining health, combined with extreme weather conditions,” Commissioner of Public Works Skip Scirocco said, “falling trees or branches pose are significant threat to our irreplaceable nationally significant Memorial and symbol of our community.   The trees are overgrown and out of proportion to the site.  New trees planted during the restoration will be consistent with the original design.”

The Spirit of Life sculpture is the centerpiece of the Trask Memorial, which was erected in 1915.  The Memorial was a collaborative effort by three prominent American designers of the era – sculptor Daniel Chester French, architect Henry Bacon, and landscape architect/engineer Charles W. Leavitt.  French and Bacon are best known for the Lincoln Monument in Washington D.C., while Leavitt was responsible for the significant changes to the Saratoga Race Course at the turn of the century.  The Memorial was a gift to the City from Katrina Trask and George Foster Peabody in memory of Katrina’s husband, Spencer Trask.  Trask, a successful financier and resident of Saratoga Springs, was largely responsible for the preservation of the natural springs of our city and the creation of the Saratoga Spa Reservation, known today as the Saratoga Spa State Park.  Today the Spencer Trask Memorial is recognized as a major contributing element to the National Historic Landmark status of Congress Park.

While the Memorial was the subject of extensive masonry restoration and sculpture conservation in the early 1980s, the landscape did not receive the same level of attention.  As it did thirty years ago, the City of Saratoga Springs is once again partnering with the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation to undertake the restoration work.  Last year the City hired preservation consultants Dan Wilson and Martha Lyon to do historic research, assess the site’s existing conditions, make treatment recommendations, and prepare plans and specifications for the masonry surround and landscape.

This month the city’s arborist, Josh Dulmer, and fellow crew members from the Department of Public Works will remove the white pine trees that tower over the Memorial in preparation for the masonry phase of work which will commence this summer.  Due to the poor health of the trees and poor condition of the wood, they will be chipped and recycled.

The goal of the project is to fully restore the entire Memorial – the Spirit of Life sculpture, the masonry architectural surround, and the landscape setting – to the extent practical, to its original 1915 appearance.  Detailed information about the project, including the Finch Forest Management Tree Risk Assessment Report and the masonry and landscape reports, is available at or at the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation office.

The Spirit of Life and Spencer Trask Memorial restoration is a community-wide effort and the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation is raising funds to support the work.  The organization will hold the TRASK, art show and silent auction of art from local artists at the Casino on Thursday, June 26, 2014.  All proceeds will go directly towards the restoration.  Anyone interested in making a tax-deductible donation to the restoration campaign can do so online at or by contacting the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation at (518) 587-5030.

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Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust Grants Major Support to the Spirit of Life & Spencer Trask Memorial Restoration

spirit of life niels olsenThe Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust, in keeping with one of its purposes to support cultural programs in the Saratoga region, recently awarded the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation with its largest grant of 2013 – $50,000 toward the restoration of the Spirit of Life & Spencer Trask Memorial located in Congress Park.  A partnership initiative between the City of Saratoga Springs and the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation to restore, to the extent practical, the Memorial to its original 1915 design.  Elements of the restoration project include the bronze Spirit of Life sculpture, the masonry architectural surround, and the landscape setting.

In the spring of 2013 two professional preservation consultants, Daniel J. Wilson and Martha Lyon, were hired by the City of Saratoga Springs to complete Phase I of the project: conduct historic research, assess current conditions, and make recommendations for treatment for the masonry surround and landscape setting.   Wilson, a preservation architect with a practice in Albany, is now finalizing the plans and specifications for the masonry work, the next major phase of project.  The $50,000 grant from the Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust will provide critical funding for the masonry restoration phase.  “The support of the Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust through this generous grant at such a crucial time of the project is greatly appreciated,” said Commissioner of Public Works, Anthony “Skip” Scirocco.

Restoration work for the masonry phase of the project will include: stabilizing and reconstructing the north portion of the east seating area; replacing damaged balustrades and coping stones; repointing of joints; removing all unsound stucco and repairing the stucco to a uniform finish; and addressing fountain infrastructure.

To-date, major grants for the project have been received from the Saratoga Foundation, the Saratoga Springs Rotary Club, and the Greater Capital Region Community Foundation.  In addition, several individuals in the community have made generous gifts.  The City of Saratoga Springs has thus far allocated $75,000 towards the project as well as committed various in-kind services by the Department of Public Works for the project.  Additional funding is anticipated in the 2015 Capital Projects Budget.

With key support from these grants, the City and the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation will continue to seek the remaining funds, services, and materials needed to complete the restoration of not only the masonry architectural surround, but also the bronze Spirit of Life sculpture and the landscape setting.  “It is our the hope that area businesses will join the City and the Saratoga Springs Preservation in their efforts to restore the most iconic image of Saratoga Springs by contributing goods and in-kind services to help offset the significant cost,” said Samantha Bosshart, Executive Director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation.  Significant additional funding will be needed to be raised in this year in order to remain on schedule to complete the restoration in June 2015, the centennial of the memorial.

Those who wish to learn more about this project and/or donate to the restoration effort can do so online at or by contacting the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation at (518) 587-5030.

In 1913, Katrina Trask, philanthropist, Yaddo founder, and Saratoga resident, along with George Foster Peabody, commissioned the Memorial to honor her late husband, Spencer Trask and his efforts to protect and preserve Saratoga’s natural springs while further beautifying Congress Park.  The work for the Memorial was completed by two significant Americans, sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Henry Bacon, who also designed and executed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.  French created the bronze sculpture, Spirit of Life, while Bacon designed the masonry architectural setting.  The surrounding landscape was designed by Charles Leavitt, Jr., who had designed the 1912 General Plan for Congress Park following the demolition of the Congress Hotel and the 1902 Master Plan of Saratoga Race Course.  The Memorial was dedicated on June 26, 1915, the same year the City of Saratoga Springs was incorporated, which may be why the Spirit of Life is identified as a symbol of our community.

Founded in 1977, the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that promotes preservation and enhancement of the architectural, cultural and landscaped heritage of Saratoga Springs.

Lend your own support to the project here.

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Postings & Links About The Restoration

Times Union, The Spirit of Life Takes Off, January 13, 2014
SaratogaWire, Restoring the Spirit of Life, September 24, 2013
Toga Tattlers, TRASK: Preserving the Spirit of Saratoga through Art, July 3, 2013
Times Union, TRASK Art Sale & Show; June 27, 2012
Facebook; Trask & Restoration Campaign; June 27, 2012

Springboard, Community Leaders Support Restoration; June 22, 2012
Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation: Over $30,000 Raised Toward Memorial, July 18, 2012
Saratoga Today Online; Reporting Saratoga’s Various Parties, June 5, 2012
The Saratogian, TRASK Call for Artists; June 2, 2012
The Saratogian; Art Show to Raise Money, May 15, 2012
Time Union Blog, TRASK Fundraiser; May 14, 2012
The Saratogian; May 14, 2012
Times Union, TRASK Call for Artists, April 18, 2012
The Saratogian; April 13, 2012
Look TV Online; Spirit of Life Restoration Article & Video, October 10, 2012
The Saratogian; October 1, 2011
Times Union, Spa City to Restore Memorial, September 22, 2011
Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation; September 21, 2011
Times Union, $225,000 to Restore Memorial, September 21, 2011
Adirondack Trust Company Community Fund, Recent Grants
Saratoga Seasons Jaybel Magazine, A New & Better Day, Winter/Spring, 2011

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