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El Monte Finds a Home for Lady With Liberty's Torch

July 23, 1987|SUE AVERY | Times Staff Writer

EL MONTE — This city's version of the Statue of Liberty, which has been gathering dust in the Public Works Yard for more than a year, is about to find a home.

The City Council is expected to vote Tuesday to place the 22-foot-tall replica in one of the most prominent spots in town--right next to City Hall on Valley Boulevard, according to Mayor Don McMillan.

And it should be in place by early September, well in advance of the city's 75th birthday on Nov. 18.

Two other sites also will be considered, but McMillan said the spot outside City Hall seems to have the most support.

The statue, donated to the city by a Taiwanese immigrant, Dr. Jing T. Wang, has been seen only twice by the public. This year and last year it appeared on the football field at Arroyo High School for the city's Fourth of July celebrations.

The problem with finding a permanent home for the statue has been its size. It had to fit in with the surrounding area, it had to be visible and it had to have some protection from possible vandalism.

But after a story about the statue's plight appeared in The Times last month, the city received calls and letters from all over the country.

"Nothing that's ever happened in El Monte before has gotten so much response," said Mayor Don McMillan.

It was enough to galvanize the city into action after a year of sporadic site-seeking. The Department of Parks and Recreation surveyed 40 or 50 city-owned parcels and came up with three possibilities.

"Some of the sites were immediately dismissed as being unsuitable," said Brian Ogden, director of parks and recreation, "and with others we discussed such factors as accessibility, adequate parking, space for crowds and the possibility of creating a traffic hazard."

But since traffic moves slowly along Valley Boulevard, gawkers will have plenty of time to take a look. Those who want to stop will find parking behind the civic center complex.

The plot of land, about 100 feet wide and 30 feet deep, is west of City Hall next to a two-story building that houses the El Monte Cablevision headquarters. The statue would not tower over surrounding buildings, as some had feared, Ogden said.

Ogden said he doesn't see vandalism as a problem. "She will be right next to the Police Department," he pointed out.

The other two possible sites are a vacant parcel at Santa Anita Avenue and Basye Street, which is only 20 feet wide and 20 feet deep, and the site of a proposed park on Ramona Boulevard, land which the city does not yet own.

The city had wanted to put the statue outside the county-owned Rio Hondo Municipal Court across the street from City Hall. But the judges, after looking at pictures of the one-ton, bright green statue, said it was both physically and symbolically inappropriate.

Presiding Judge Rudolph Diaz said the statue was inconsistent with the courthouse atmosphere and suggested the city hadn't looked hard enough for a proper location.

Judges Can See It

McMillan said it seems proper that Diaz and the other judges would have a good view of the statue if it is placed outside City Hall.

"They will see it every time they come out of their building," he said. "We got all kinds of calls" when the judges raised their objections.

"I want to get this out of the way," McMillan said about the site selection. "We are still getting inquiries as to when we are going to find a spot and people are asking us when we are going to make a decision so I want to get this settled."

Wang also has been getting a lot of calls, many suggesting that he donate his statue to some other city if El Monte does not find a place for it.

Made in Taiwan

Wang, who had bought the $50,000 fiberglass replica in Taiwan to celebrate the centennial of the Statue of Liberty last year, said he donated it to the city to show his appreciation for being in this country and wanted other immigrants to have an opportunity to view it.

"I got a call from someplace in Montana saying they would take it," Wang said.

"They said it was ridiculous that the city couldn't find a spot after more than a year and it would be a shame if they didn't find a place for it."

Wang has even offered to pay for a foundation on which the statue would be placed, although he doesn't know what it will cost, so the city will not have to use taxpayers' money.

"I would like to see other people involved in raising funds for the foundation," he said, "and I hope it (the project) can be completed as soon as possible."

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