Pioneer Monument by sculptor Frank Happersberger erected on this site in 1894 in front of San Francisco's new City Hall. It was moved in 1993 to make space for the new public library building. That move was protested by preservationists who wanted to keep it in its original location and by groups that opposed its depiction of Native Californians.
Thousands of San
Franciscans celebrated the dedication of an 800-ton monument to white pioneers
in front of their new City Hall in 1894. Donated by eccentric millionaire James
Lick (1796-1876), the $100,000 ($2.8 million in 2015 dollars) monument depicted
early California history from European explorers through the 1849 gold rush.
City Hall was destroyed by the fire that followed San Francisco’s 1906
earthquake, but the Pioneer Monument survived.
Design elements on the
monument depicted white settlement of California from European exploration
through the Spanish mission era, Mexican period and the 1849 gold rush. The
center of the monument features a granite pedestal topped by a bronze
statue depicting Eureka, the spirit of California. Scenes
from California history and portraits and names of famous Euro-Americans
surround that pedestal. Four statues flanked the central pedestal. Allegorical
female figures represented Commerce and Plenty. Early Days depicted
a Native American on his knees in front of a Catholic friar (representing
California’s Spanish mission era, 1769-1821) and a Mexican vaquero swinging a
lasso (representing the vast ranches of the Mexican era, 1821-1848). Another depicted
white American miners during the 1849 gold rush.
Few white residents of
the city perceived these images as offensive for the first half of the 20th
century. However, in the early 1990s, the Library Commission sought to move the
monument to make room for a new library. The proposed move, combined with
increased awareness of the treatment of Native peoples, led residents to
reconsider the monument. Native groups wanted to dump the monument in the San
Francisco Bay. Martina O'Dea of the American Indian Movement Confederation
argued that it symbolizes the humiliation, degradation, genocide and
sorrow inflicted upon this country's indigenous people by a foreign invader,
through religious persecution and ethnic prejudice.1 But preservationists believed it should remain in its original location to
represent historic views at the time it was erected.
The enormous statue was
moved about 2 city blocks in July 1993. Rather than alter the statue, city
leaders responded to growing concerns about the monument by adding an
additional plaque in 1996 that discussed the often disturbing nature of
conquest. The plaque informs readers that over half of the Native population
perished as a result of the arrival of Europeans. Even that language was
controversial. The Roman Catholic church and Spanish government both opposed
proposed language describing the mistreatment of American Indians.
In 2017, as Americans
debated the removal of Confederate monuments across the country, San
Francisco's Art Commission voted to remove the controversial Early
Days bronze grouping from the Pioneer Monument. A legal challenge to its
removal was filed in early 2018.