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Makeshift War Memorial to Be Made Official at Park

August 15, 2003|Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writer

In a city master-planned to the hilt, there typically is little room for spontaneous displays of sentiment.

The memorial to fallen U.S. soldiers in the war with Iraq, a collection of wooden sticks and votive candles, was just such a display. It sneaked into Northwood Community Park in March, the brainstorm of an Irvine medical company executive.

The public grew attached to its simplicity: one stake for each American casualty. There were nightly candle-lighting services scored by taps, and visitors, some tearful, who'd stroll alone in the afternoons.

The stakes numbered 227 by July 6, when it was dismantled by its creators at the behest of the City Council, which feared it would spark displays from groups who had more contentious messages to voice.

But the council relented and agreed to install a permanent, privately funded memorial about 100 feet from the original, near a grove of trees at the corner of Yale and Bryan avenues. As a sanctioned government monument, officials say, it will shelter Irvine from having to allow other private displays on city property.

Now, the neighbors who tended the original memorial plan to unveil an artist's rendering of the new one at the Aug. 26 council meeting.

"We've been compared to the 'Stepford Wives' community with our master plan," said Councilwoman Christina Shea. "But this whole thing sprung up out of nowhere. We're going to see a creation beyond what government could think up."

In the beginning, the makeshift memorial had 30 stakes, each marked with the name, age, rank and military branch of a soldier. Candleholders were fastened to the 5 1/2-foot poles, adorned with news clippings, fake flowers and yellow ribbons from visitors.

Organizers, including memorial creator Asher Milgrom, envision two circles in its resurrection: one of steel stakes surrounding another of marble lecterns. The stakes would evoke the makeshift memorial: one stake for each soldier, save a few stakes to commemorate the dead from other wars. The stakes would have gas- or electric-lighted candles and bronze plaques with engraved names.

Several 4-foot-tall lecterns would encase lithographs of historical documents. Benches would be scattered nearby.

The memorial would be one of three of its kind in the city, officials said. A privately funded bronze statue at Windrow Park honors a baseball player killed in a crash, and a flagpole is being constructed in Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park as a tribute to the military.

In Westminster, a privately funded memorial on city property became entangled in fund-raising problems. The unveiling of the larger-than-life bronze statue of a G.I. and a South Vietnamese soldier was delayed five months because of a lack of funds. The five-year fundraising campaign that generated $1.2 million was marred by debates over the statue's design and requests for more donations.

Milgrom said his group won't nail down a cost estimate until an architect solidifies the plans. It has set up a foundation, Gratitude & Honor, the name of the 15-minute documentary shown to the council before its unanimous vote approving the plan.

He expects donations to come from the community and veterans groups, such as the American Legion, a local chapter of which sent a $1,000 check. If there's a shortfall, said the president of American Medical Aesthetics Corp. in Irvine, he's willing to close it with his own funds.

"This has brought so many people in harmony," he said. "And that's sort of miraculous in my book."

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