San Francisco Board Votes to Keep Controversial Statue

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The Pioneer Monument is between the Main Library and the Asian Art Museum in the Civic Center. (Arash Malekzadeh/KQED)

San Francisco authorities reversed a decision to remove a 19th century statue near City Hall that some say is degrading to Native Americans.

San Francisco's Board of Appeals late Wednesday unanimously voted to overturn the city's Arts Commission earlier decision to remove the "Early Days" sculpture, which depicts a Native American at the feet of a Spanish cowboy and Catholic missionary. It is part of the Pioneer Monument cluster that depicts the founding of California.

The board agreed to keep it standing after lawyer Steve Schmid appealed the Arts Commission decision to place the statue in storage. Schmid argued that the sculpture is an art piece regardless of one's opinion of the sculpture. He said the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment mandates its protection.

"Yes, it's despicable. Yes, it's horrible," said appeals board member Rick Swig, who voted with the other four members to keep the statue on public display. "But taking it away suppresses thought."

The Arts Commission started the removal process in October after demonstrators clashed over the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer.


"When I go by that statue, I just see genocide," San Francisco resident Martin Huerta told the board.

On Thursday, the Arts Commission said it would ask the appeals board to reconsider its decision and explore other legal options.

"As a city, we had an opportunity to correct a gross misrepresentation of history and to honor the wishes of the first people of this land who have advocated for the sculpture's removal for decades," said commission spokeswoman Kate Patterson.