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A Lesson in Mortality

October 29, 1987|JESSE KATZ

Shirley Weeks was 10 when her father, John Palo-Kangas, completed the concrete statue of Father Junipero Serra that stands in front of Ventura City Hall.

But she never thought that, 51 years later, the monument would be so decayed that a team of woodworkers would be asked to carve a replica.

"I feel badly that it's deteriorating," said Weeks, a record analyst for Ventura County. "I figured when I was a child that concrete is something that lasts forever, that a statue is something that lasts forever, that a monument is something that lasts forever. To find, 50 years later, that it doesn't is sort of saddening."

Palo-Kangas, who died in 1958, made the publicly financed sculpture under the Works Projects Administration initiated during the Depression.

It was one of several monuments created by the Finnish-born sculptor, who lived in Meiners Oaks.

A statue of a Civilian Conservation Corps worker was completed in the 1930s and unveiled in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, but no one is certain where the piece is today, Weeks said.

After the Serra statue, Palo-Kangas carved a monument of Col. Thomas Baker, Bakersfield's namesake, that still stands in front of City Hall there.

One of his less weighty projects, Weeks said, involved designing the devil that serves as the logo for Orange Julius, the chain that sells the orange-flavored drink.

Although saddened by the Serra statue's mortality, Weeks said she is pleased that the community has rallied to its side.

"I think it's wonderful the way they're working on it," she said. "It's always been in public hands."

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