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Statue Knows No Limitations

Memorial to Haym Salomon, a Jewish figure of the American Revolution, is moved for fourth time since the 1940s.

November 02, 2005|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

He's been around a while. And he's been around.

No wonder no one batted an eye as Haym Salomon was on the move again Tuesday -- this time to a new home in the Fairfax area.

A 12 1/2 -ton statue honoring the Jewish financier credited with helping bankroll the American Revolution in 1776 was relocated to a busy street corner where it will help form a new gateway to Pan Pacific Park.

It was the fourth time since its creation 62 years ago that the huge monument has been picked up and carted off.

This time Salomon didn't go easily, however. The statue stubbornly clung to a concrete base buried in a courtyard at the West Wilshire Recreation Center.

What officials had envisioned as a 30-minute hoist-and-haul job turned into four hours of heavy lifting as workers were forced to use a 200-ton crane, a skip-loader, sledgehammers and finally a pneumatic jackhammer to loosen the statue's grip on the courtyard.

Originally cast in concrete in Los Angeles by sculptor Robert Paine -- a descendant of Founding Father Thomas Paine -- the 13-foot statue was commissioned and paid for by a Jewish-led group, the Haym Salomon Day Committee.

It was moved to East Los Angeles in late 1943 and unveiled with great fanfare at Hollenbeck Park on Jan. 6, 1944, as a centerpiece for a major World War II bond drive organized by the committee.

But as the Jewish community abandoned Eastside neighborhoods and moved west, Salomon followed. In 1951, his statue was hoisted onto a steel framework and rolled to the southwest corner of MacArthur Park, where it was rededicated in a ceremony emceed by entertainer George Jessel, a vaudevillian entertainer known at the time as "America's Toastmaster General."

The westward migration continued, however. At the urging of Jewish leaders and at the expense of Jewish organizations, the city agreed in 1984 to move the Salomon monument to the new community center being built at the West Wilshire Recreation Center.

"I've joked with my Jewish friends that one day that statue will be out in Tarzana," City Councilman Tom LaBonge said Tuesday after Salomon was gently lowered to his newest home between a pair of palm trees at 3rd and Gardner streets.

LaBonge, who represents the area, was an aide to the late neighborhood Councilman John Ferraro at the time of the 1984 move. He said the new location will give the little-known Revolutionary War hero prominence.

"I hope people will read the inscription on it and be inspired," he said.

That homage to Salomon, written by Harvard University historian Albert Bushnell Hart and carved into the statue's concrete back, calls him "a benefactor of his country, an inciter to patriotism."

A financial broker who worked in New York and later Philadelphia, the Polish-born Salomon assisted the Continental Congress by selling government securities to raise Revolutionary War funds from such lenders as Holland, Spain and France. He was arrested by the British on charges of espionage and sabotage for supposedly plotting to destroy English ships and burn warehouses near New York.

At the 1984 rededication, city and county officials and Jewish leaders praised Salomon for his trust in the fledgling American government as well as his devotion to his own roots. The dedication program recounted how shortly before his death in 1785, he was given a form to sign in order to be repaid funds he had lent the government for its war effort.

"He failed to collect on an accounting on which his secretary prepared and had government approval because he would not sign his name or write on his Sabbath," noted the rededication program. " 'Bring it back on Monday, he told his secretary. The ravages of the strenuous years as 'broker to United states government' and the time spent in prison took their toll. On Monday, Haym Salomon was too ill to sign his name. On Thursday of that same week, he died. His family was left penniless."

LaBonge said a dedication ceremony for Salomon's new site will be planned. It may be difficult to draw the hundreds of onlookers that past ceremonies have attracted, however.

Residents along Gardner Street didn't even step into their frontyards Tuesday to watch the spectacle of a huge crane lifting a bigger-than-life patriot before a truck trundled him down the street.

The move, which cost about $25,000, is included in the $2.2-million cost of converting the multipurpose building into a senior citizens center. The empty courtyard will be walled off as part of that project.

Louisa Mara Nadir, who lives a few blocks away, paused during a morning walk to watch the 10-man work crew struggle with the monument. "They don't make statues anymore," she said. "These days they honor people by naming stadiums after them."

Another resident, 14-year-old Victor Park, said the move was a good one. "More people will see it at the corner, especially the tourists," he said. "Here, it was hidden. All the times I've passed it by I've never known who he was. Now I'm going to study about him."

Park La Brea resident Lorraine Hamidi stopped to watch with sons Kamran, 4, and Arman, 19 months, as Salomon settled into his latest home. She laughed when told the statue's 62-year itinerary.

"Wow. He has been around, hasn't he?" she said.

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