By Ruth Musser-Lopez
Statues are not plenteous in San Bernardino County but we do have a few.
Perhaps the most famous and prominent historic statue is the “Madonna of the Trail” on the corner of Euclid and Foothill Ave.(RT66/National Old Trails Road) in Upland placed there by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1928. The west end competed with the City of San Bernardino, and ultimately came up with the money first with May Hart Smith of Ontario playing a predominate role in pushing the effort. That statue honors women, specifically pioneer women of the old west—like these women, the statue is strong and lovely, sturdy, resilient and significant…my personal favorite, but is not unique since 12 of them were reproduced and installed in 12 states along the National Old Trails Road, ours in 1928.
The most controversial historic statues, of course are the series of 12 staged life size nativity scene murals behind statues representing New Testament Bible figures and depicting the life and times of Jesus Christ. Traditionally displayed during the Christmas season in the large median of Euclid Ave. in Ontario, the first three were erected around 1959, followed by nine more in subsequent years, the last one in 1976, by the Chamber of Commerce, which had commissioned Los Angeles sculptor Rudolph Vargas to produce them. Their placement on public property was the subject of heated debate in the 1990s when a local atheist challenged the City based upon separation of church and state. The problem was resolved by the Assemblyman Neil Soto who arranged for the space to be rented for $1 during the season and private storage in off seasons.
A historic statue dedicated in 1916 and erected by a group of some of the last survivors of the Civil War includes a Civil War soldier standing at parade rest, mounted atop a large marble monument. On each of its four sides is a memorial to the soldiers and sailors who lost their lives in four different wars: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War and the Mexican War of 1847 when California became a part of the United States.” It is located at Pioneer Park on 6th and E streets in the City of San Bernardino.
Not yet historic, is the very moving, life-like, bronze “Officer Down” statue that was placed in the corridor of the San Bernardino County government building just outside the meeting chambers. It depicts a deputy who gave his life in the line of duty and on the four sides of its platform are the names of officers who worked and died in the line of duty in San Bernardino County—gone but not forgotten.
The civil rights movement 50 years ago had an impact all over the country including in San Bernardino County. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is considered to be the leader of that movement in the 1960s and our county is not without its own tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whose birthday we celebrate on Monday with a national holiday. In memory of this important figure in American history, a full-length statue figure of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stands on a square base with sloped sides in the City of San Bernardino. It is located in front of the city hall and is approximately 11 feet tall and weighs one ton.
Dr. King wears a suit and tie and his left hand is on his chest, but look close, on his wrist there is a wound that symbolizes the sacrifice for the civil rights movement and in place of the shirt cuff on his right wrist, the artist placed a slave shackle.
The statue’s creator was Mexico’s late Julian Martinez Soto, the sculptor of statues commemorating Mexican movie stars, of John F. Kennedy, and Mexican revolutionist Emilano Zapata. It is said that the photos Soto worked off of did not represent all of King’s angles so he rendered what he envisioned King’s spirit to be where he lacked knowledge of form. Reportedly, Soto died a pauper in Mexico, two weeks after completing the King statue.
By Ruth Musser-Lopez