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SF’s 87 Public Monuments & What We Should Do With Them

Updated: Jun 12, 2023 09:45
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You have seen them all all around our city, maybe you leaned against one during a walk through Golden Gate Park, or maybe you saw one on the news getting taken down with a crane.  Maybe you meet next one every year at 5:12 a.m. on April 18th, along with the mayor and hundreds of other San Franciscans to remember the survivors of the 1906 earthquake.

Lotta’s Fountain is San Francisco’s oldest surviving monument and meeting place for 1906 earthquake survivors.  San Franciscans still meet there every year on April 18th.

There are 87 Public Monuments dotting San Francisco and a concise, well-written report by the New Monument Taskforce has documented all of them. ‘The Relic Report:  An Unofficial Municipal Study of SF’s Monuments‘ is free to the public and the full digital version can be read here, the paper versions are available at Adobe Books on 24th St now.

The taskforce is led by SF artist Cheyenne Concepcion and backed by the Goeth Institute and the Monument Lab, a national organization dedicated to the study of public art.

The report depicts and categorizes all over our monuments.

The Relic Report breaks down the obvious short comings of our city’s most public statues.  For starters, there are only 3 females represented in our city’s 87 monuments, while there 53 dedications to men, most of them old, dead, white guys, the majority being politicians or European military men.  You know, the effigies that no one cares to look at, until protestors are tearing them down on CNN?

The Christopher Columbus statue at the foot of Coit Tower was removed from Telegraph Hill after it was repeatedly vandalized

In recent history monuments have been attacked all over the country, most famously in the South where monuments of confederate generals are commonplace.  This controversy has sparked national debate on who should be memorialized in our public spaces.  If we take down controversial statues that represent a painful past, how do we decide on what to replace them with?  Or perhaps we don’t need Monuments at all?

The New Monument Taskforce asks you, the public, these very questions in an online survey designed to find out what the public thinks about our monuments here in San Francisco, and what should be done about them.  Read the report and then fill out the survey!  These answers will be distilled and presented to City Hall for review.

Full Relic Report Here

Fill out the Relic Report Survey here

For example, one of the survey questions is: “Which monuments should be taken down? Where should they go?”

This was my answer: “I think there should be a sculpture garden put in the Presidio or McLaren Park or GG park.  A park of discarded monuments.  With plaques explaining why they were replaced, or had fallen out of favor.  Not only would this be a fascinating stroll through history as well as a study of modern sentiment, it would make a fantastic tourist attraction to boot.”

Activists vandalize a Cervantes statue in San Francisco GG Park this year.  The City had to pay to clean it.

Who wouldn’t want to visit the ‘Garden of Misfit Monuments’ or ‘The Museum of Fallen Statues’?  The City’s chief concern is that many monuments are expensive to maintain and cause more trouble than they’re worth.   That’s why I say, put them all in one place, and charge tourists admission, like the Botanical Gardens.

The public should know that SF Mayors like James D Phelan existed, and that his campaign slogan for Senate in 1920 was, “Keep California White.”  That doesn’t mean we have to see a statue of him every time we visit City Hall!  Instead put his statue in ‘The Garden of Fallen Monuments’ with a plaque that says:  “James D Phelan, once SF Mayor and California Senator, did a lot of municipal things like: blah-blah” (list that stuff) then write, “he was also very racist like a lot of people in California at the turn of the century, thankfully he lost the Senate race where he used a ‘keep California White’ slogan, restoring some faith in humanity.  His statue was removed from City Hall for that reason, feel free to spit on the statue, you will not get in trouble, and we will not pay anyone to clean it up.”

James Phelan Statue, SF City Hall

The sculpture garden for unwanted monuments is a win-win-win.  The city saves money, the public doesn’t have to look at Phelan’s face unless they want to, and at the same time we are not washing away history, simply organizing it.

‘St. Francis Made of Melted Guns’

In contrast, there a many monuments everyone seems to like.  For example Cheyenne had this to say about a particular monument, “My favorite is St. Francis of the Guns…the artist was a wild dude! And I like that, and the statue is a robed saint made of melted gun metal collected from a gun-return program in the 80s. I love that kind of materiality story. It also commemorates assassinated political figures like MLK/JFK etc.”

Speaking of your favorite monuments in San Francisco, The taskforce made a google map of all the SF monument locations!  Check it out here.

All the locations of our Monuments!

Do you have an opinion?  Or maybe you just want to take a walk down memory lane?   You can also read about the city government’s most recent efforts to deal with our monuments here.  Meanwhile check out the report and survey:

Read the Full Relic Report Here

Fill out the Relic Report Survey here

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

I'm the managing editor and co-owner of this little expiriment. I enjoy covering Bay Area News as well as writing about Arts, Culture & Nightlife.

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