Ken Walp looked on Friday as his son, Jesse, helped anchor the downtown's second major piece of public art.
The elder Walp spent a few weeks of his childhood living in downtown Niagara Falls.
That was 68 years ago when he was 5.
At the time, he lived adjacent to the corner of Old Falls and First streets, the same spot where his son's newest piece of artwork now stands.
One memory sticks out, he said.
"We'd walk down in the dark, down to the bridge, and look at the Falls when they were putting the lights on," he said.
By some serendipity, Jesse Walp, an assistant professor of interior design at Villa Maria College, was selected by the Empire State Development Corp. (ESD) and the Albright Art Gallery in the City of Buffalo to design and fabricate a sculpture that now stands in his father's old neighborhood.
Titled "Arch on Old Falls Street," Walp said the undulating metal work is an abstract portrayal of the force of the Niagara River rapids and the cataracts raging less than a mile away.
During the unveiling ceremony on Friday, Jesse Walp said inspiration for the piece wasn't hard to find.
"We have a wonder of the world right down the hill there," he said. "I knew that was going to be a beginning point for the sculpture."
But he needed more to guide him, Jesse Walp said. He found direction on a walk along the shoreline of the Niagara River, watching the water build force as it rushed toward the precipice, pour over and churn a relentless mist into the air.
"I thought, 'Hey, this is the experience,'" he said. "I want to bring this experience right here to the street."
The tops of the curved aluminum rods, some of which bend into the archway while others point toward the sky, are dotted with blue urethane resin spheres – a color taken from the ponchos worn on the Maid of the Mist, he said.
Mayor Paul Dyster said the sculpture is one part of a continued push to redevelop downtown Niagara Falls, and one he has seen employed while visiting other U.S. cities.
"One of the things I've noticed in my travels is that everywhere that's making an effort to revitalize downtowns, and in particular everywhere that's making an effort to attract creative young people back to downtowns, has made public art an important component of their strategy," he said.
State Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, R-Niagara Falls, called the piece "magnificent." He credited Empire State Development, a state-run grant and lending arm, with abandoning previous administrations' focus on "grandiose projects that never happened."
"We have to remember we are a small city with a monumental attraction, and that's what we need to focus on," he said. "Empire State Development is focusing on singles, bringing something that people can come downtown for. We need to show them that the locals need to come, the tourists are coming."
Paul Tronolone, the senior project manager at USA Niagara Development Corp., a subsidiary of ESD, said it was important the downtown public art, including the $60,000 sculpture, should be an attraction but also accessible.
"Art is one of those things that makes a place unique," he said. "It can inspire us, it can challenge us, it can uplift us, or sometimes it can really just captivate us for a little while to wash away the rigors of everyday life."