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Red Tape Ties Up Statue Project : Landmarks: The Miss American Green Cross has known fame and oblivion since its dedication in 1928. Now its restoration has suffered a setback.

October 17, 1990|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Her face is scarred and her arms are gone. She can no longer stand up without help. She spent years lost and neglected in an obscure Brand Park canyon, where vandals took potshots at her and the elements eroded her features.

But Glendale officials say better days are ahead for Miss American Green Cross, a 62-year-old statue that was erected amid great fanfare by American Green Cross, a now-defunct organization committed to saving the nation's forests.

City leaders say the statue has historic value, and they plan to spend thousands of dollars to restore her arms, refinish her bronze skin, rebuild her pedestal and put her back on public display.

Support for the project remains strong, but the restoration of Miss American Green Cross suffered a slight setback last month.

Glendale parks officials had chosen for the project local sculptor Ron Pekar, who said he could complete the work by November for $25,000. He said he would use modern materials that are more durable and vandal-resistant than the concrete-like substance originally used to form the cross behind the statue and the cluster of logs at her feet.

But the Glendale Historic Preservation Commission gave the proposal a cool reception at its Sept. 17 meeting.

"The commission prefers to see it restored to its original condition in both materials and design," Commissioner William E. Dodson said.

"To do less, you're really not restoring, you're creating something new. We wouldn't have Miss American Green Cross. We'd have a new project," he said.

A further complication arose shortly before the meeting, when a Glendale history buff unearthed some old photos of the statue at the Los Angeles City Library. They showed that it originally stood upon a six-foot-high base, with inscriptions proclaiming the importance of forests.

"Obviously, it was a surprise to us," said Nello Iacono, the city's parks and recreation director. "We had never seen that base."

Artist Pekar suggested that the mammoth base, if rebuilt, would dwarf the delicate five-foot-tall statue and detract from her beauty. Its size would also spoil a plan to put the statue in a small landscaped area near the Brand Library.

But the Historic Preservation Commission urged that the large base be rebuilt because it was part of the original monument. "It's not so much the artistic quality. It's the history behind it that's important," Dodson said.

Iacono has asked Pekar to draw up a new budget and schedule for rebuilding the base and restoring the statue with original materials. The new budget is expected to be higher and the project may not be completed until next spring, the parks director said.

Although she was briefly the center of civic attention, time has not been kind to her.

Thousands of cheering onlookers attended her unveiling at the Glendale High School campus on April 23, 1928.

The statue was a focal point for American Green Cross, but little is known today about the organization. Glendale officials have been unable to find any chapters that still exist.

According to old news articles, the group was founded in Southern California on Dec. 3, 1926, as a successor to the American Reforestation Assn. It promoted the conservation of timber and other natural resources.

One early Green Cross committee chairman urged that the group's national headquarters be established in his hometown, Santa Barbara, "because there are so many people here who have time to think about the important things of life."

Instead, the headquarters was established in early 1928 at Glendale's Sparr Heights community center, which was donated to the group. On April 5, 1928, Glendale also became the site of the nation's first local Green Cross chapter.

Little is known about the sculptor, Frederick Willard Potter, or his model, Verlyn Sumner, although they were on the speakers' platform during the unveiling of Miss American Green Cross.

In the years that followed, American Green Cross' popularity apparently waned, as did the city's enthusiasm for the statue. According to old news reports, art critics of the era dismissed the statue as "an abortion."

Sometime during the early 1930s, Miss American Green Cross was spirited away from the high school campus and deposited in the remote canyon area.

She briefly re-entered the limelight in 1954, when reporters hiking in the Brand Park canyon stumbled upon the statue and dubbed it the mysterious "Green Cross Woman." The mystery was solved a few days later when the Glendale City Council, accompanied by civic activist Essie Morris Hughes, journeyed into the brush to inspect the find.

"There's my statue!" exclaimed Hughes, who had founded the Junior Green Cross chapter for Glendale's schoolchildren many years earlier. Council members joked about who had removed the monument, "but not one suggestion was heard that she be returned to her place on Glendale High School grounds," the Glendale Independent reported.

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