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Travelers puts its image on the street

The golden parachute is a well-known takeover defense. But a big red umbrella?

Not satisfied with slapping its logo on stationery and business cards, Travelers Group Inc. is asserting its identity with a larger-than-life umbrella made of 5,300 pounds of structural steel.

The 16-foot-tall creation, painted fiery red to match the logo, appeared in front of the company's headquarters in Manhattan's hip Tribeca district last month. Standing 25 feet from the curb, it's meant to feel protective.

"You get out of your car or taxi, and right away you're under the Travelers umbrella," explained Clive Chajet, who was chairman of Lippincott & Margulies when the New York corporate-identity firm had the three-dimensional brainstorm.

To avert the corporate-identity crisis that a toppling of the umbrella could cause, engineers gave it a base of 22 cubic yards of concrete anchored by piles sunk 30 feet into the ground. It should withstand blizzards, even hurricanes, says engineer Gary Steficek.

"This building will blow over before that umbrella does," says Travelers spokeswoman Mary McDermott. She wouldn't say how much it cost, but a builder estimated it at $200,000.

After Hallen Steel, a local company that specializes in building staircases, made the two halves of the umbrella, welders sealed it watertight to ensure that no employees _ or customers _ get soaked standing under the Travelers umbrella.

"This has been a real technical challenge for the tradespeople," says Kevin Perry, the general project manager. "Not a whole lot of people around here have experience with umbrella maintenance."

An even bigger threat: pigeons roosting on the spokes beneath the dome. Perry says he considered several ideas to keep the winged pests from soiling Travelers' image, from metal spikes to plastic owls to subsonic waves. He settled on coating the spokes with a substance he called "pigeon goop" that repels the birds because "it shakes under their feet like Jell-O."