On Monument Drive in Princeton stands the sculpture “Petit Vintner,” aptly named for its subject (a wine pourer) and size (five feet). This bronze recasting from an original mold by the 19th-century French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was a gift to Princeton from the artist’s native city, Colmar, France. It was presented as part of a sister city relationship that began in 1986.

That year coincidentally was when national attention was paid to another Bartholdi statue, the little vintner’s statuesque big sister 57 miles away: the Statue of Liberty. It was that statue’s centennial and marked the conclusion of a major and highly publicized renovation.

While the Princeton statue celebrates wine (and perhaps freedom from care), Lady Liberty, as she’s been nicknamed, commemorates human freedom, symbolized by the statue’s right hand raised high and holding a flaming torch against the darkness.

However, natural forces — salt air, water, wind, storms, and time — have been unkind.

Now after several months of repairs, related to Hurricane Sandy, the National Park Service (NPS) is celebrating by reopening the statue this July 4 (the same month and day inscribed on the tablet that the lady cradles on her left arm).

A Princeton-based architectural firm that is a direct area link to the Statue of Liberty is also celebrating that day. Mills + Schnoering Architects (M+Sa) — a Forrestal Road-located firm that has spent the past several years addressing statue upgrades and renovations — will see its efforts open to the public — or, more accurately, reopen.

“The work was completed before the storm and opened to the public for a half a day to visit the crown,” says architect and firm principal Michael Mills of that October 28, 2012, dedication. That date, coincidentally, marks the day of the statue’s official opening in 1886.

The 2012 hurricane arrived right after the celebrations and shut down the monument by destroying docks, electrical systems, and walkways. Though structural engineers were anxious about the statue’s ability to withstand winds stronger than it had ever experienced before, the statue itself was unharmed.

“Our first project was in 2008,” says Mills in a book-lined work space in the company’s office. That year was when Mills and project manager Anne Weber were engaged by the NPS as advisors to help contractors address a variety of technical and code issues regarding the staircases that led from the feet of the statue to the crown.

Mills said that the goal was to make a visitor’s trip through the 127-year-old statue safe and less claustrophobic by enhancing the stairway railings, addressing American Disability Act (ADA) codes, and providing a sense of open space that included the use of protective glass in key locations.

“When the call came in on the crown project, we were told that it was considered one of the most important projects that the park service had ever undertaken. We were so fortunate to be selected to do it,” Mills says.

M+Sa’s second project in 2011 and 2012 addressed upgrades related to safety and accessibility in the statue’s pedestal and in Fort Wood, a U.S. Army base that had been established in the early 1800s on what was then known as Bedloe’s Island. The work included the installation of three new elevators and two free stairs, new air conditioning, smoke control, and fire rated enclosures. Mills says that their efforts were “to make the monument safe and more welcoming, easier to get in and out of, and easier to see.”

While the plan was to make things easier for the visitor, it was far from easy for Mills and Weber.

“There were physical constraints of what we had to do. The idea was to put in new features, but we were not allowed to touch the (original) beams. The new structure needed to be totally independent. We could not touch the statue,” says Mills.

Weber says that there were two challenges: One in design, the other in logistics.

“The biggest design challenge was to figure out the exact path and get the stairs through the beams. Figuring out where to place everything was a real challenge,” she says.

Her fear was that the stairs being designed would not fit “or there wasn’t enough clearance, that you would bump your head. That was the toughest part.”

Weber adds that while the company and the design fabricator had computer models, there were times that the computer did not pick up on potential problems. That happened when the antique rivet heads used by the statue’s original engineer, Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, were not taken into consideration. Since there are approximately 300,000 of these heads protruding into what seems like a clear area, a small calculation could make a large impact.

“Sometimes (a problem) shows up in shop drawings and sometimes it doesn’t,” she says, adding that the schedule was so tight that everything was checked several times before final fabrication. The routine pressure of checking and double-checking was intensified when the company also agreed to a 24-hour turnaround on any drawings or reviews by the NPS and participating contractors.

Also challenging were simple logistics related to the statue’s location. Says Weber, “You’re on an island. If you miss a boat, you wait an hour for another. There was a set schedule and security clearances, and everyone had to have a background check. You get stuck in traffic on the way up the New Jersey Turnpike and you can miss a boat. I’d run to the dock only to see the boat pulling out. The same thing coming back — if you’re done and you just miss the boat, you’re hanging around and waiting. One night I left my keys on the island and had to go back.”

M+Sa was formed in 2011 when members of the former Farewell Mills Gatsch Architects reorganized. The new organization continues Mills’ award winning work in preservation and restoration of cultural and historic buildings.

Mills, originally from Illinois and now a Hopewell resident with degrees from Princeton and Columbia, has led restoration work on such high-profile state projects as the New Jersey State House, the Essex County Courthouse, and the Princeton University Graduate College’s Cleveland Tower. Michael Schnoering has worked on theater projects including renovations for the Bucks County Playhouse, Count Basie Theater, and Cape May Stage.

Architect Weber, a Princeton resident originally from Saddle River, holds degrees from Yale and Columbia and has participated in such high-profile projects as the restoration of the Princeton University Chapel and the Louis Kahn Bathhouse in Ewing.

The firm became available for the monument work after it received an Indefinite Delivery — Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract with the NPS. The application was made when Mills was working on the Thomas Edison Tower in Edison.

IDIQ contracts afford the NPS the opportunity of using established and proven sources for completing work in a timely and cost-efficient manner and provide backup of technical and contractual support from the initiating office.

With a track record with historic preservation projects, experience with ADA and other code compliances, and proximity to the east coast, M+Sa became a fit for the NPS’ plans to address monument visitors’ needs.

After the success of this initial project, the company received an invitation to submit a bid for a more expansive and complicated problem: address the entrance to the statue through the pedestal.

While the architect company’s work is recent, it interacts with a level of history that literally loomed over them during this most recent of restoration efforts.

Miss Liberty — a statue that Mills says is amazing in that it was built and still stands — is 127 years old and sits on the 12-acre Liberty Island, originally Bedloe’s Island, 2,000 feet from Liberty State Park in New Jersey. From pedestal base to the torch tip, she stands 305 feet tall.

Sculptor Bartholdi, born in 1834 and trained at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, had become enamored of monumental sculpture after visiting Egypt. When his 1869 proposal for a colossus-sized sculpture of a woman to celebrate the Suez Canal was rejected, the concept found rebirth in France.

Prominent 19th-century Parisian lawyer, professor, and writer Edouard de Laboulaye was a champion of human liberty as well as an expert on the U.S. Constitution. At the conclusion of the American Civil War Laboulaye was impressed with the United States’ effort to affirm democratic principles and promote freedom through the elimination of slavery. He proposed in 1865 that the French recognize their debt to U.S. for their own democracy and present the people of America with a statue that personified liberty.

Laboulaye’s idea languished for several years until the recently disappointed Bartholdi stepped forward and ignited interest with a revision of the Suez lighthouse, now called Liberty Enlightening the World.

While Bartholdi hoped to have the statue built for the 1876 United States Centennial, the project took 15 years to complete. During those years there were trips to New York (where the sculptor selected the island), fundraising, and public events: the hand and torch were created for display at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and then displayed at Madison Square Garden.

With money raised in France (a lottery developed by Laboulaye) and in America (a campaign started by newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer), the project moved forward and involved engineers and architects.

One of the first was one of Bartholdi’s former instructors, architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. He advised on how to sculpt the figure from copper by using repousse, a technique where a work of art is created by pushing or hammering the thin sheets of metal from behind. He also created ideas for attaching the sheets to assemble the work and was designing the interior support structure (based on using compartments of sand) when he died suddenly in 1879.

Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, the architect who would create the Eiffel tower for the 1889 Paris World Fair, was commissioned by the Franco-American Union, the organization formed to realize the statue, to take Viollet-le-Duc’s place.

A designer of railroad bridges, Eiffel coupled architecture with mathematics to create structures that were gracefully light and solidly strong. His contribution to the statue is the 92 foot tall and 125 ton metal skeleton that supports the 31 tons of copper covering or skin, yet allows the towering sculpture to be flexible enough to withstand winds, temperature fluctuations, and storms. A 50-mile-per-hour wind will cause the statue’s body to sway three inches, five inches for the torch.

While Bartholdi’s artistic approach to the statue was conservative and classical, Eiffel used innovation and modern techniques, adding deeper artistic value.

American architect Richard Morris Hunt, one of the first Americans to attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, was the American member of the team and designed the 89-foot-tall pedestal (which sits on a 65-foot-tall foundation). It uses a combination of design ideas, mixing Bartholdi’s thoughts of a fortress of liberty with Hunt’s desire to evoke the lighthouse of Alexandria.

The statue was built in Paris. It took nine years and was completed in 1884. The figure is based on the Roman goddess of liberty, Libertas. Bartholdi used two models for the figure, combining the face of his mother with the body of his mistress.

The nearly 200-ton completed statue was then disassembled in into 350 pieces and packed in 214 crates, sent to New York, and re-assembled in four moths for an October 28, 1886, dedication, one that involved another Princeton figure, President Grover Cleveland (who lived and is buried in Princeton). On accepting the statue in the name of America, Cleveland said, “We will not forget that liberty here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.”

But the statue was neglected and began to show wear.

In 1982, Lee Iococca, American businessman and former head of Ford and Chrysler motors, led an $87 million restoration project for the statue’s centennial. That public/private partnership between the NPS and the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation is the most successful partnership of its kind.

Two years later the statue received a UNESCO World Heritage Designation, with the organization stating, “The symbolic value of the Statue of Liberty lies in two basic factors. It was presented by France with the intention of affirming the historical alliance between the two nations. It was financed by international subscription in recognition of the establishment of the principles of freedom and democracy by the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which the statue holds in her left hand.

“The statue also soon became and has endured as a symbol of the migration of people from many countries into the United States in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. She endures as a highly potent symbol — inspiring contemplation, debate and protest — of ideals such as liberty, peace, human rights, abolition of slavery, democracy and opportunity.”

The statue’s connection to those thirsting for American freedom was further established in 1883 when writer Emma Lazarus assisted with fundraising efforts by composing a poem later placed on the pedestal. It has the familiar lines “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Approximately 4 million people visit the Statue of Liberty annually.

“(The monument) was open for about three hours,” says Weber, sharing a point of frustration at a moment that was to mark the company’s achievement. “Then everybody was consumed with the recovery effort. The finishing touches of our project got on the back burner and were not going forward. It was just the schedule changed.”

The project got back on track in March, and Weber lists the work accomplished: “We did the final HVAC work, put the final finishes on the stairs, picked up punch list items that needed to be corrected; minor stuff, fixing a piece of hardware or paint scratch.” The company also completed an exterior stair.

Working in an historic structure provides the opportunity for a company to make unexpected discoveries and M+Sa’s experience was no exception. One includes the uncovering of more history than anticipated. “The NPS had excavated (on the site around the pedestal) in 1960 for the American Immigration Museum and had excavated already to the bottom. So we thought it had already been disturbed and proposed a stair off the terreplein (or gun platform) to replicate work in the 1960s. So we thought we’d be safe and built our stairs and excavated things. We discovered (a military) magazine. We preserved it and had an opportunity to interpret the fort. We thought we weren’t going to encounter anything, but we encountered a lot.”

Another discovery was a deeper admiration for the original engineers. “The last time a hurricane of this force hit New York City was in 1860,” says Mills. “We did not know how (Liberty) was going to perform. It was scary. It was the first time there was a strong wind of this magnitude hitting the statue, which is like a giant sail. I said to our engineer, ‘Do you think we should get the bolts tightened before the wind hits? How did Eiffel figure out the wind loads on the statue? Was it a rule of thumb or was it calculated?’ At one point it becomes a rational sculpture.”

For the participants — including contractor Joseph A. Natoli and Sons — there was a discovered and ongoing sense of pride. “Everyone had a sense of purpose working on it. They worked hard and collaborated. It was a great experience, and we felt we were doing something important. Everyone had a sense of ownership,” says Mills.

Weber says, “As a historic preservationist, to work on the Statue of Liberty is one of the high points of your career. It is a world heritage site and there are not a lot of them in the United States. To work on something of international importance is a privilege.”

Mills says that he was taken by the whole process of getting to know the history of the building and seeing the Eiffel beams. “It was great. It was a learning experience for me and the team. To help the park service the public is an important thing.”

Then thinking for a moment in his Princeton office of the lady standing in New York Harbor, Mills adds, “A week before the official opening (in 2012), it was opened to veterans from Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam. Several had amputated limbs and all were able to get around the monument. And one vet said, ‘Up until this project, we were never able to be here.’ For me that was one of the most fulfilling parts of my experience. You experience something like that and you realize why you do this.”

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