As the campaign to remove Confederate monuments continues throughout the country, the San Francisco Arts Commission voted this week to consider eliminating a controversial statue within the Civic Center’s Pioneer Monument.
In a meeting Monday, the Arts Commission voted unanimously to initiate the review process that would lead to the removal of the “Early Days” statue. It currently stands in the northeast side of the Pioneer Monument.
“Early Days,” a bronze statue that depicts a vaquero and a Catholic missionary imposed upon a Native American, was originally designed by sculptor Frank Happersberger as a posthumous gift from city tycoon James Lick. It was completed in 1897.
Since its installation, the Native community in San Francisco has critiqued the statue for its anachronistic, troubling portrayal of the Ohlone people — the Native tribe indigenous to San Francisco and the larger Bay Area.
In 1991, activists demanded the removal of the statue, which was set to be shifted to open up space for a renovated Main Library building. The demands were met with a compromise: a plaque that addressed the subjugation of Native people by Spanish missionaries and settlers.
Members of the Native community argue that the plaque is an inadequate solution to the underlying issue at hand.
“This plaque has been covered up by plants for many years, and does not offer an explanation of the historical context of these racist images, and does not extend any apology for the theft of land, colonization, subjugation, and near-annihilation of Native American people,” the group Take Down the ‘Pioneer’ Statue in San Francisco Now wrote in a press release.
Protests demanding the removal of the “Early Days” statue mounted again in August amid the turmoil of Confederate statues being removed in places such as Charlottesville. Mayor Ed Lee and City Supervisor Jane Kim have expressed their support for the removal of the statue from city grounds.
Representatives from the San Francisco Arts Committee declined to comment, but stated that the removal of the “Early Days” statue is in the preliminary stages.
Once the Commission concludes its review process, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission will need to grant the Arts Commission a Certificate of Appropriateness to remove an artifact within the Civic Center — a designated historic landmark.
“To one extent, the statue tells a story that is not inaccurate in that Native Americans were treated terribly,” said Andrew Wolfram, who presides over the Historic Preservation Commission. “With that said, the history that is conveyed is not portrayed accurately. We don’t want to whitewash historical facts.”
Then the vote will return to the Arts Commission’s Visual Arts Committee for another hearing. It will boomerang back to the full Commission for a final vote based on the committee’s recommendation.
The removal of the statue will cost up to $200,000 upon final approval by the Commission, according to the SF Weekly.
In the meantime, the commission will post a sign in front of the “Early Days” statue with information about its history and the removal process.