Lawyer Stalls Plan to Remove Statue that San Francisco Officials Consider Racist [UPDATED]

The bronze statue “Early Days” was called “racist and disrespectful” by the San Francisco Arts Commission, which voted unanimously for its removal earlier this month.

“Early Days,” a sculpture near the base of Frank Happersberger’s Pioneer Monument in San Francisco (photo courtesy San Francisco Arts Commission)

Official plans to remove a statue in San Francisco, which depicts white settlers towering over a Native American, have been temporarily halted after an appeal by a local lawyer.

The controversial statue, “Early Days,” shows a missionary making a gesture of admonishment to the Native American, who is sitting on the ground. It is part of “Pioneer Monument,” a group of several bronze sculptures near San Francisco City Hall. They were created in the late 19th century by Frank Happersberger with funds from the businessman James Lick.

After a decades-long effort by community activists, the statue was deemed “racist and disrespectful” by the San Francisco Arts Commission, which voted unanimously for its removal earlier this month. The city’s Historic Preservation Commission, which oversees historic sites in San Francisco, also approved the removal — with the stipulation that a didactic plaque be installed at the site.

But Frear Stephen Schmid, an attorney in the North Bay city of Petaluma, believes the Historic Preservation Commission erred when it gave its approval. In a handwritten statement of appeal, he wrote that the removal will “destroy an historic work of art bequeathed to the City.” His objections were first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Detail of “Early Days” (photo by Patrick Flanagan)

Schmid’s appeal hinges on a particular phrase used by the Preservation Commission. In an official document, the Commission said “the spatial relations of the monument and the district will not be altered, as the overall monument will remain in its present location.”

Schmid wrote: “The monument will definitely be altered by the removal of a critical element thereof.” He added that the monument is “part of history, albeit ‘unpleasant’.” A board of appeals will consider his argument next month.

“This was not anticipated,” Kate Patterson, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Arts Commission, told Hyperallergic in an email. She said the appeal hearing, which will take place not far from the statue’s current location, has been set for April 18. “We will be present to answer any questions the Board of Appeals may have about the sculpture and/or our process.”

One critic of the statue told the Chronicle that the appeal has caused a disappointing delay, but feels that the removal plan will eventually be carried out. L. Frank Manriquez, an artist and activist of Tongva, Ajachmem, and Rarámuri descent, said in statement posted on Facebook: “The statue doesn’t even show a California Native, it shows a Native from the Plains. Which shows the racist ignorance on the part of all involved in the making of the statue and reinforces racist stereotypes to the public in general.”

Update, 4/20/18: The San Francisco Board of Appeals, siding with the lawyer Frear Stephen Schmid, said the city’s Historic Preservation Commission should not have approved the removal of “Early Days.” The statue will remain standing for now. The San Francisco Arts Commission, which maintains that the statue is “racist,” plans to appeal the decision.

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