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“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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Daniel A. Gross

Daniel A. Gross is a former editor at Hyperallergic, and he is a writer and radio producer in New York City. Some of his stories have appeared in The Guardian, 99% Invisible, The Atlantic,...

11 replies on “Lawyer Stalls Plan to Remove Statue that San Francisco Officials Consider Racist [UPDATED]”

  1. “White settlers towering over a Native American” ??? It depicts a Spanish missionary and a Mexican vaquero (cowboy) towering over a Native American! i live in SF and I do not find this statue racist. The statue is a beautiful and important monument that reminds us of the tragic story of our indigenous people.

    1. How would the scenario play out if the sculptor was of Native American heritage? Would the art be allowed to remain? As an artist myself, an artist of the our time, will my art be banned in the future?

    2. I couldn’t agree more.

      It is sad that the artist did not portray a regional native, but the fact that Mr Manriquez uses the term ‘California Native’ only goes to underscore the artist’s unfortunate error. You see, California was not yet a state at the time this sculpture portrays. Happersberger, born and died in California, should have known better, just as Mr Manriquez should have used a term other than the one he chose. I suspect that neither man had any conscious misstep in mind.

      IMO, when we remove statues, we need to be very careful about any attempts to erase parts of an ugly history that we ought not easily forget. In this instance, pretending that native peoples were not mistreated would be to take a wrong step. All of us need to be reminded that none of us is free of guilt in one form or another.

      Making mindful distinctions in a complex world will help to improve the lives of everyone.

  2. Please, all you thin skinned and easily offended, rather than deny the rest of us this art please stay in your safe space. Wasn’t racist until some racist told you it was and you should be offended. Up until then you probably enjoyed the statue.

    1. Nah. It was racist from the get-go. Not at all surprised you’d be compelled to pretend otherwise.

      1. “. . . racist from the get-go.” If you have information the rest of us are unaware of, can you share it? Or, is this just an unfounded supposition? Please tell us.

          1. Clearly *you* don’t know the use of pronouns, but then, of course, vague pronoun references are all the rage in today’s telegraphic use of the language.

            You are correct if your use of the word ‘it’ had been in reference to *it*, i.e., “the history of the country”. But, as there is no stated reference to America’s history anywhere in the article, nor, more specifically, in the comment to which you are responding, ‘it’, then, is rightfully understood to refer to the topic that *is* under discussion — racism and Happersberger’s statue.

            If you can improve your communication skills, perhaps your need to be nasty can be alleviated. “Tinkerbell”?

            Am I to assume you have no answers to the questions I posed to you earlier?

            p.s. “Clearly you don’t know it” is, positively, an unfounded supposition.

          2. Pronoun useage, simpleton, is irrelevant to the racist history of this nation, whcih you clearly rmmain ignorant of.

            The question you asked me is irreleavnt to the facts of the matter: minorities, native or otherwise, have always been subjucated; the article didn’t have to reference it

            It’s fun to watch you try and play word games in order to cover for your rather laughable ignorance.

          3. I have no beef, nor have I expressed any, with regard to your statement that “minorities, native or otherwise, have always been subjected”. And, I would agree that in general “Pronoun useage . . . is irrelevant to the racist history of this nation”. (“Simpleton” is simply rude.) However, pronoun usage *becomes* relevant when you use a word like ‘it’ without indicating its reference. If you want to discuss the history of racism in this country, that’s fine, just give us the courtesy of letting us know your intention.

            If you are willing to let go of your apparent unwillingness to be civil, perhaps there is something to discuss here. But as we seem to agree on the fundamentals of racism in this country, I suspect there is nothing more to say.

  3. Allison Cummings of the SFAC lied under oath at the appeal hearing. When VP Rick Swig asked her what the basis for asking for the certificate was-Cummings
    replied, “massive public outcry”. When asked how many letters were sent? Cummings didn’t know. This is typical of the SFAC. They never come prepared and just have to walk across the street.
    I was accused by them of putting up a
    web site. No legs basis and a waste of taxpayer money.

    Just look at the 33 Orders issued by the
    SF Board of Supervisors against Kate
    Patterson.

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