Caretaker Of The "Little Apple
The budget is tight, the infrastructure is aging, and a thin
layer of dust has settled on the surface of the Hudson River.
But for Lou Acquavita, its just another morning in New
A first time visitor, I waited at the gates of the capitol of
the world, dreaming like those before me of the wonders that lie inside.
"Stay here a minute," Acquavita called from above.
"I have to turn it on first."
Mopping the Hudson River, vaccuming Queens
Boulevard, and changing the suns lightbulbs is all in a days work for Lou
Acquavita (right) and John Poulson (left).
Tribune Photo By Dee Richard
The disappointment of learning that the city does in fact
occasionally sleep was quickly eclipsed by the overpowering sunlight filling-in the
shadowy crevices between the buildings and bridges.
"Okay, theres light now," said Acquavita,
seeming to take for granted the biblical proportions of this gesture.
Acquavita then strapped on a pair of foam "moon
boots," and began a somewhat awkward stroll through his five borough domain. Standing
over a mile tall, Acquavita carefully bobbed and wove through the boroughs, taking care
not to crush a neighborhood, housing project or historic district in the process.
Like a divine spirit hovering over New York with a feather
duster, Acquavita is the caretaker of the "Little Apple," the Panorama of New
York City, at the Queens Museum.
Constructed as part of the 1964 Worlds Fair, the
Panorama was the centerpiece of the New York City pavilion. The worlds largest
architectural scale model, the Panorama, as envisioned by Robert Moses, would turn pawns
into power brokers.
But while the 9,335 square foot model of every street,
building, and bridge in the city was intended as an urban planning teaching tool, the
Panorama soon became a time capsule, preserving a city that had since undergone dramatic
changes. In 1992, the Queens Museum, revamped the Panorama, brought it architecturally up
to date, and redesigned the space for a more hands-on view of the city.
Visiting the Panorama is a humbling experience. One is
overcome by the vastness of the city, while at the same time all too aware of his relative
insignificance next to the megalopolis.
However, like the real city that it represents, the
"Little Apple" has many challenges to overcome.
Thats where Acquavita comes in. As Facilities Manager
of the Queens Museum of Art, Acquavita is charged with the task of maintaining the day to
day operations of this smaller New York.
This includes making sure the Hudson and East rivers are
regularly mopped, that Flushing, Park Slope, and the East Village are vacuumed for dust
and fallen debris, and that the bulbous sun and moon stay in working order.
A special bridge was designed that could be put in place over
Manhattan from the Hudson to the East River, so that workers could clean the dense
clusters of Midtown skyscrapers. With a special vacuum strapped to your back, it would
take about a month to clean the entire city, said Acquavita. "Its an extremely
But like the Big Apple in years past, the Little Apple is
experiencing fiscal woes, and has recently been forced to cut back on maintenance, said
Because much of the infrastructure of the Big Apple is nearly
a hundred years old, there is constant road construction, and water main breaks.
The Little Apple, whose 275 sections are now a 34-years old
antique, shares its big brothers dilemma.
"Although our BQE is in much better shape than the real
one," said Robert Mahoney, the museums spokesperson.
Walking on the surface of Staten Island, Acquavita points out
the street and the house in which he grew up. Noticing that several Monopoly-like houses
have shifted out of place, he kneels down and corrects the situation.
"One of the biggest problems is fallen debris,"
said Acquavita. "People lean over the edge and drop pens, buttons, and pennies. These
all have to be fished out of the city."
Acquavita then retraced his commute to the Queens Museum in a
matter of seconds, noting that traffic is not a concern when you are over 5,000 feet tall.
"There are footprints in the Hudson," said
Acquavita pointing out the environmental anomaly to Maintenance Assistant John Poulson.
Poulson arrives on the scene with a mop the size of Central
While removing the blemish on the otherwise pristine river,
Acquavita said that the job had given him a whole new appreciation of the task Mayor
Giuliani and the city face in maintaining the real city.
But for Acquavita, who is the departments of Transportation,
Sanitation, Buildings, and the Port Authority rolled into one, its a "piece of