EL MONTE — It was the Fourth of July all over again last week when city fathers, with unabashed patriotic fervor, finally dedicated Lady Liberty after searching more than a year for a suitable home for her.
The 23-foot-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty, donated to the city by Dr. Jing T. Wang, a Taiwanese immigrant, now stands proudly atop a tiered pedestal in front of Civic Center on Valley Boulevard.
About 250 people, including representatives of El Monte's sister cities in France and Mexico, witnessed the ceremony Wednesday. The El Monte High School band played patriotic songs as passers-by, many of them clutching small American flags provided by the city, stopped and stayed for the 45-minute event.
"It is great to have something like this," said Maurice Lopez. "Now we don't have to go all the way to New York to see the statue."
Lourdes Castenada gave her vote of approval while her 2-year-old daughter clapped to the band music: "The statue is great."
The donor was equally enthusiastic. "I am happy to finally have it in this place," Wang said. "The visibility is good, and I am very pleased."
City fathers decided shortly after Wang presented the statue to the city on July 4, 1986, that it should be visible and fit in with surrounding buildings. This presented a problem because of the statue's size.
The city first offered the statue to Arroyo High School, where the city's Fourth of July celebrations are held. But the principal, worried about vandalism, declined.
Then officials suggested a spot outside the county-owned Rio Hondo Municipal Court building, across the street from the Civic Center. But the judges there turned it down, saying the statue would not fit in with the courthouse atmosphere.
So the statue spent more than a year gathering dust in the city public works yard, except for two appearances at Fourth of July celebrations.
But after a story about the statue's plight appeared in The Times last June, the city was inundated with calls and letters from all over the country, most offering a home for the statue if the city could not find one.
Embarrassed, Mayor Don McMillen insisted that a site be found in El Monte.
Officials concluded that the Civic Center at 11333 Valley Blvd. was the only suitable place. But some councilmen balked. As a compromise, the statue was placed there for a month to gauge public reaction.
By the end of August, the council, with only Councilman Jeff Marrone dissenting, went along with McMillen.
Marrone, who has said that he does not like the statue and that he had received unfavorable comments from the public, did not show up for the dedication.
"I was not boycotting the event," Marrone said. "I was playing in a charity golf tournament for the Friendly Cities Kiwanis Club in La Verne.
"But my feelings (about the statue) haven't changed. I still don't think it belongs there, but it is done now." The one-ton fiberglass replica, which had been painted a bright mint green in an unsuccessful effort to make it look like the original in New York Harbor, has been repainted a more subdued pastel green and now stands on a three-foot concrete pedestal. At night, it is lit from crown to toes by three floodlights.
"We have already had two busloads (of tour groups) stop by, and our schoolchildren will view her and then study the history of the Statue of Liberty," said McMillen.
"We stress patriotism in El Monte."
As the band played the National Anthem, hundreds of red, white and blue balloons were released. The breeze took them directly over the courthouse where Lady Liberty had been rejected.