The hulking Alamo Cube has come to define New York’s Astor Place over the decades and is celebrated by its neighbors, demarcating the boundary between the heart of the East Village and the valley of ashes — what feels like 40-some unending streets of corporate office buildings — north of it. It was first installed in 1967 as part of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs Sculpture and the Environment program, meant to stay up for only six months. But it was so well-received that community members petitioned to keep it around — proving that it’s possible to have a homely appearance and still win hearts and minds.
Just because its looks aren’t quite all that doesn’t mean the Alamo Cube isn’t fun at parties: Its appeal has always been its interactive tactility. The cube spins: A group of friends that join their strength, or a gym bro proving his burly arm muscles to a date, can, with a push, make the cube creak on its axis. But no longer — as of April 27, the cube has been strapped in place by supportive metal implements at its base. Not to worry, though: A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) confirmed that despite reports to the contrary, the eventual plan is for the cube to continue pivoting around its vertex.
The installation of the implements is the latest development in a several months-long saga to protect the 55-year-old cube, which has been suffering from standard wear and tear. In December, metal barricades were erected around the cube; those unsightly railings were finally removed earlier last week.
The cube has been removed several times in the past for repairs: in 1987, 2005, and 2014, on the most recent occasion for dents and corrosion to be filled in and for the spinning mechanism to be refreshed. The Village Sun reported that the “D.O.T. just didn’t want to spend any more money trying to fix the sculpture’s spin glitch” by way of explaining why it’s been locked in place. In any case, the cube shouldn’t be begrudged for requiring repairs: Designed by abstract expressionist sculptor Bernard “Tony” Rosenthal, it wasn’t originally supposed to spin at all. It’s only natural that all that movement it’s endured at the mercy of youngsters, skateboarders, and ogling tourists has taken a toll.
When reached for comment, a DOT spokesperson was tight-lipped about when the cube would be free to rotate again, though he indicated that it would undergo a second repair phase.