When plans for the Empire State Plaza were unveiled in April 1963—more than a year after the State of New York appropriated Albany’s 98 acres—one of its most dramatic features was a 336-foot-high arch. The Arch of Freedom was designed to anchor the Plaza’s south end and to connect two low-lying structures for the State Library and State Museum. At the base of the arch, there was to be a 1,500-seat amphitheater and a “shrine” containing a preliminary draft of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Two years later—at the South Mall cornerstone ceremony—the public learned that the arch, shrine, and amphitheater were no longer part of the plan. In their place was a larger single structure, the Cultural Education Center (CEC), which now houses the library and the museum, along with the State Archives.
What happened to the arch?
In addition to cost, lead architect Wallace K. Harrison blamed curators and librarians for its loss. Curators demanded more exhibit space. Librarians wanted more storage. Furthermore, the original design did not include a place for buses to load and unload school groups, which visited daily.
By 1965, the arch was out and the CEC was in, but even then, plans for the new structure continued to change until the very end. According to Harrison, “Once the library problem came up, we never stopped growing, and if we hadn’t finished the building when we did, it would be twice as big now….”