Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: Restoring Los Angeles's Victory Memorial Grove


By Courtland Jindra

Until a few years ago I hadn't really thought too much about how those who served and died in World War One were remembered. But when I read about Mark Levitch's WWI Inventory Project my interest was piqued. I quickly realized I wasn't alone. Citizens from across the U.S. were rediscovering our history through the thousands of WWI memorials that dot our country. And documenting wasn't always enough. Some communities began plans to refurbish their monuments. Needless to say, I caught the bug.

My first stop was the Internet. It led me to old newspapers and the library. Those newspapers were full of references, and I quickly found over two dozen memorials in Los Angeles County. My next step was to visit them and take pictures. That's when the urge hit me. I knew had to find a way to rehabilitate what I could.

My  first challenge was focusing on just one memorial. I won't bore readers with all with the fits and starts I had in trying to pull groups together to restore this or that monument, but suffice it to say I ran into difficulties and had to abandon more than one project. It was definitely an eye-opening education.

Walking Path in Victory Memorial Grove

But my Eureka moment came a little over a year ago. I went to check out a memorial that I had read about in the archives of the Los Angeles Times from 12 November 1920. The place was called “Victory Memorial Grove” and was in Elysian Park (the park that surrounds Dodger Stadium). The article included a rough explanation of where the grove was, as well as a reference to a ceremony to unveil a bronze tablet made by sculptor Julia Bracken Wendt. Intrigued by the article, I asked a new acquaintance (who would  eventually become my sweetheart) if she wanted to try to find it with me. After some fruitless driving we eventually found the grove and began searching for the bronze tablet.

The park-within-a-park was not very well kept, but we did find a monument, though not the one we were expecting. The plaque described in the article, if it was ever completed, no longer resides in Victory Memorial Grove. But what we found was a five-foot-high California granite monument. It honors 21 young men and women who gave their lives “in the interest of humanity.” It was erected in 1921 by the Daughters of the American Revolution of Southern California to honor all those relatives of state DAR members who were lost in the war.

Overhead View of the Memorial


Now I was excited, because my mother is a member of the Los Angeles — Eschscholtzia Chapter of DAR (LAE-DAR). I figured if I could get them behind the memorial restoration I might have a group that could really help take the lead in getting it done.  

I informed my mom and while she started planning how to pitch the project,  I began to research the site and the monument. The information I discovered is too lengthy to discuss here. However, I have included some of the most interesting factoids below.

* A preliminary Victory Memorial Grove was dedicated on a hilltop in Elysian Park on Memorial Day, 30 May 1919 (where Radio Hill is now), but accessibility to the site was poor and abandoned a year later

* Poppies from Flanders were planted on Armistice Day, 11 November 1920, by members of the American Legion and civilians with plans to add trees shortly thereafter

* The memorial rock and tablet were dedicated on Flag Day, 14 June 1921 in a ceremony attended by several local notable figures

* The ceremony honored 22 individuals, one more than the 21 on the plaque itself (We are still unsure the reason behind that omission—trees could also be dedicated to individuals according to the charter of the park, so it is possible that one was supposed to be his memorial.)

* Not everyone listed on the plaque was from California, as we originally assumed. Some individuals were from out of state and one, a navy surgeon who served with Admiral Beatty at Jutland, was from Great Britain. This  makes the Victory Memorial Grove Tablet not only a local World War One memorial but also an international one—which I believe is fairly unusual.

The condition of the monument was pretty sad. Graffiti and paint covered the surface. I knew Rosa Lowinger and Associates (RLA)—a firm that focuses on conservation of art and architecture—from a failed attempt on restoration of a different memorial. They quickly agreed to do an assessment on the monument at VMG. And my mom got Jan Gordon, regent of the LAE-DAR, interested in restoring the piece. Everyone's  initial reaction was that the park needed saving too. 

Current Condition of the Monument

Sometimes it is strange how things come together. About this time, Lester Probst, a member of Hollywood Post 43 of the American Legion, contacted me. He had just attended a program by Theo Mayer (the technology guru of the Centennial Commission, who actually lives in Southern California) which discussed the centennial commemorations. It was also about the time the WWICC launched their 100 Cities/100 Memorials initiative.  Les asked if I knew of any memorials that could be restored. He figured he could grab the interest of his Legion mates with the likely press that we'd get if selected. Obviously I knew of many monuments, but I saw the potential to gain a lot of muscle behind the VMG project, so that was the one I highlighted. My mom and I met him out there a few weeks later, and fortunately he was not daunted by the challenge.  

However, in discussions with the LAE-DAR, Lester, and myself we quickly figured we could not reclaim the whole of the grove, at least not for some time. It was decided that the LAE-DAR would restore the monument and Post 43 would attempt to fix up the grounds on the upper terrace of the park—which is where the monument itself is located.

Now the bureaucracy. It took me a bit of time to track down the right people to talk to and the right meetings to attend, but we eventually got approval from the Recreation and Parks Department. Finally  we could really begin in earnest.

My original plan was to shoot for a Flag Day 2018 re-dedication. LAE-DAR was quickly fundraising money and wanted to shoot for a whole year earlier. Things were not running as fast at Post 43 due to numerous  fundraising  projects. However, one member of Post 43 was a member of Disney SALUTE (the organization within Disney comprised of veterans) and through him we also were able to garner the interest of The Mission Continues (a nationwide program with more than 11,000 veteran members) to work on fixing up the grove. The cleanup/planting day is set for 3 June, with RLA set to beginning work on the monument on the 5th. Fingers crossed that everything goes according to plan.

So, now we sit less than a month away from our proposed re-dedication day of Flag Day (14 June).  It all seems to be coming together, yet I will be very nervous until the restored monument is unveiled and the grove has been saved from obscurity.

Editor's Note: Later in June we will have a report from Courtland as to how the project and re-dedication went.

3 comments:

  1. This is a fascinating narrative, Courtland. I think we all appreciate your efforts and interest in restoring this memorial. Thank you so much!

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  2. congratulations. please keep us posted on how things are going. will think of you all on flag day.

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