Shoppers going in to grab one of the innumerable home products on sale at Bed Bath & Beyond or discount fashion garb at the Saks Off 5th outlet may be surprised to see a 13-foot-tall bronze Captain America statue upon entering Liberty View Industrial Plaza in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Captain America is so tall, his shield reaches into the mezzanine level of the building’s atrium. He holds his iconic star shield aloft with his left hand, with his right hand clenched into a fist. On the top of the bronze plinth are the words “I’m just a kid from Brooklyn,” a line from the 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger. In this modern era, it seems rare for any statue to arrive without controversy and this one was no different.
The Brooklyn-based sculptor David Cortes, of Cortes Studio, was commissioned by Marvel to make the design for the 75th Anniversary of Captain America, the comic book character created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941. Cortes, a native Brooklynite and graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City, is known for the figurines he’s made for not only Marvel, but also DC Comics and other toy companies. He assumed he was being asked to do something in his usual scale.
He tells us, “I didn’t know it was actually going to be a 13-foot-tall bronze sculpture. I thought this was going to be just a typical 12-inch figure or statue like I usually do. So of course, when I found out it was kind of horrifying. The first thing was like, oh, did we put enough detail in the areas that I didn’t think we’re going to be the focal point like the legs? But it turned out really nice.” The one ton statue was cast in Asia by the company Comicave and unveiled at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con.
The original plan was to tour the statue around the country, but the idea was met with unexpected resistance. “All of a sudden, there’s all this red tape,” says Cortes. From Comic Con, the statue moved to Brooklyn and was on display in the Children’s Corner at Prospect Park, near the zoo and carousel, for two weeks. It was unveiled to much fanfare with the singing of the National Anthem, a performance by a military color guard, and a ribbon-cutting by then-Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (who was later elected New York City mayor).
Adams was behind the effort to get the statue moved to the borough. Adams said in a statement, “Captain America was always more than just a kid from Brooklyn. The epic story of this paragon of patriotism, told over decades of crimefighting, has inspired millions of comic lovers across our nation.” Marvel fans came en masse and in costume to the rain-drenched ceremony, but other park goers complained to the local media about the perceived commercialization of the public space. After it watched over Prospect Park, Captain America went on display in the plaza in front of Barclays Center for about a month and a half.
Additional controversy over the statue was rooted in Captain America’s origins. In the comic books, his alter ego Steve Rogers is from the Lower East Side and was the child of Irish immigrants. Co-creator Joe Simon, the son of a Jewish immigrant, says he got the idea for Captain America, who was “designed to be the perfect foil for Führer [Adolf Hitler],” while riding the Fifth Avenue bus. The film, and more recent comics, shifted Captain America’s origins to Brooklyn. Purists of the comic books protested that the statue should rightfully be located in Manhattan.
The sculpture was then gifted by Disney, the parent company of Marvel, to Liberty View Industrial Plaza in the fall of 2016. The industrial building was constructed in 1918 and leased to the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet. It served as a uniform manufacturing facility from 1921 through World War II. Ian R. Siegel, Senior Project Manager at Salmar Properties, says that the sculpture needed to find a permanent home in Brooklyn and they felt that the building “was the perfect home.” He adds that a lot of Marvel fans of all ages like to come by to take photographs with the sculpture. “We get calls on our office line here. I once got one as far as Alberta, Canada, from a father.” As for the controversy, he says, “We love Captain America. We love the Lower East Side, Brooklyn. Only love here.”
For Cortes, having the sculpture in Brooklyn near where he grew up and where his studio is located, holds special meaning. “I feel like that plaque is basically describing me. ‘Just the kid from Brooklyn.’ I basically was raised in that area between Park Slope, Red Hook and Sunset [Park]. Watching the neighborhood change little by little. That was where we hung out so it’s kind of cool that I was part of this thing.”
Next, read about the superheroes that call NYC home!