Arts Commission Unanimously Votes To Remove 'Early Days' Statue

Arts Commission Unanimously Votes To Remove 'Early Days' Statue'Early Days' statue near Civic Center. | Photo: Beyond My Ken/Wikipedia
Nathan Falstreau
Published on March 06, 2018

Yesterday, the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) voted unanimously to remove "Early Days," a statue that depicts the subjugation of a Native American man at the hands of a Spanish cowboy and a Catholic missionary. 

According to SFAC, "the allegorical sculpture’s depiction of the degradation and genocide of Native American peoples" relies upon stereotypes "which are now universally viewed as disrespectful, misleading, and racist."

Part of the Pioneer Monument, the sculpture was a $100,000 gift to the city by James Lick in 1876 and was commissioned by sculptor Frank H. Happersberger, according to the Examiner

Installed in 1894, the 820-ton monument was initially located in front of a previous City Hall at the intersection of Hyde, Grove and Market, formerly Marshall Square. To clear space for the San Francisco Library's main branch, it was moved to its current location in 1993.

Efforts to bring down the statue intensified last year after conflicts erupted between white nationalists and protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia over the removal of a Confederate statue, leading to the death of Heather Heyer and the injuries of 35 others.

'Early Days' monument. | Photo: Google

Last October, SFAC voted to begin the process to remove the bronze sculpture, which required approval from the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission since it's located in a historic district. 

In February, the Historic Preservation Commission agreed to allow the statue's removal, with the stipulation that it be replaced with a plaque explaining its absence. 

As part of yesterday's vote, the SFAC moved to place the statue in storage before a decision is made as to its fate, which will occur in the coming months. Estimated removal costs—including 10 years of off-site storage—may be as high as $200,000. 

The statue could be placed in a museum at some point, the Examiner reported, however, it's not clear where that might be. 

SFAC Director of Cultural Affairs Tom DeCaigny called yesterday's vote a "significant and historical moment” for San Francisco and the country. 

"This is us recognizing history and the evolution of history and doing the right thing on the right side of history," he said at the meeting.