Los Angeles group issues recommendations for reassessing public monuments, memorials

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The Junipero Serra statue at Ventura City Hall, which activists denounced as being racist, is shown in an undated photo. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

The Junipero Serra statue at Ventura City Hall, which activists denounced as being racist, is shown in an undated photo. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles officials are hoping to change the way the city’s history is reflected in future memorials and monuments.

Mayor Eric Garcetti on Friday announced the recommendations from a working group on ways the city could “more honestly and effectively commemorate important historical milestones” in the city’s history.

“Los Angeles is a place where everyone’s story is welcome and everybody belongs, yet that spirit is too often lost in the way we pay tribute to our history, confront the pain of our predecessors, and learn from our darkest moments,” Garcetti stated in a news release. 

The Mayor’s Office Civic Memory Working Group, which formed in November 2019, assembled 18 key recommendations in a 166-page report informing how L.A. can “commemorate and memorialize formative moments that have gone unrecognized.”

Among the findings in the report, the group recommended the city build a memorial to mark the 150th anniversary of an anti-Chinese massacre that occurred in 1871, as well as a tribute dedicated to the frontline, essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This working group had to compile not just the memories, but the meaning,” Garcetti said in a virtual briefing on the report’s release. “And from that meaning, action so that we can continue that cycle of bringing together what has happened and know how it affects us and how it influences us.”

The working group also recommended that the city complete an audit of monuments on publicly accessible land and find ways to recontextualize or remove memorials that are outdated or fraught. Another key suggestion is to create a city historian position.

Christopher Hawthorne, the city’s chief design officer, who coordinated the working group’s efforts said the recommendations are based on the “idea that L.A. has not yet engaged in that conversation to the degree it needs to, especially when it comes to initiatives launched from City Hall.”

“Proposals to create, remove, or rename monuments or buildings, of the kind we are now seeing across the country, have a greater chance of community support if they are preceded by broad-based discussions about memorialization and commemoration,” Hawthorne said.

Other notable recommendations include working with the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission to establish an Indigenous Land Acknowledgement Policy and forming a task force to explore the establishment of a museum of the city of L.A.

Alexandra Valdes, executive director of the commission, said in a statement that “the recognition of local tribes, their histories, and their contemporary realities is long overdue.”

In releasing the report, Garcetti said he hopes it will spur conversations and bring more awareness on how the city commemorates difficult histories.

“This is much more than about building memorials,” Garcetti said. “It’s about understanding memory, and it’s about finding each of those details and abstractions that give us both.”

The working group’s full report can be viewed here, or by visiting the group’s website.

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