The Pioneer Statue

The Pioneer Statue of Carthay Circle

This monument, originally a fountain, honoring the California Pioneers of 1849 stands in a small park in the center of the swanky Carthay Circle. It is known colloquially as “Dan the Miner.”

Daniel O. McCarthy: The Archetypal Pioneer

For nearly one hundred years (less a few months — more on this below), a bronze statue of a tall man, dressed in a western-style shirt with rolled up sleeves, has been panning for gold in the center of Carthay Circle Park. Although the sculpture is intended to honor the pioneers who journeyed west to California during the Gold Rush of 1849, it’s more accurately an homage to just one man — Daniel O. McCarthy.

Daniel O. McCarthy, The Pioneer Statue, eternally pans for gold in Carthay Circle Park. Photo from the author’s collection.

When the statue was dedicated in 1927 it was part of an elaborate fountain bearing the awkward name “Pioneer Fountain Group” that stood over a pond in front of the Carthay Circle Theatre (so named because the floor formed a circle), one of the most famous movie houses of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Likely due the unwieldy name, the sculpture was also known as the Daniel O. McCarthy Pioneer Fountain and the Miner’s Statue.

Dan the Miner in front of the opulent Carthay Circle Theatre sometime in 1930. Image via Los Angeles Public Library Digital Collection, Security Pacific National Bank Collection.

The seven-foot-tall statue of McCarthy as a young man was sculpted by prodigious sculptor Henry Lion in 1924 and 1925. Lion is responsible for much of the early 20th century bronze statuary in Los Angeles, including two other sculptures in Carthay Circle as well as Felipe de Neve at the Los Angeles Plaza (which we touch on the Los Pobladores: The 44 Founders of Los Angeles post).

The whole Carthay Circle neighborhood (originally Carthay Center, but changed due to the popularity of the aforementioned theatre) is named for Mr. McCarthy. The area was developed by his son, J. Harvey McCarthy, and the streets in the neighborhood are supposedly named in honor of Gold Rush pioneers.

Today, the fountain, the pond, and the Carthay Circle Theatre are all long gone (although the Carthay Circle Restaurant at Disney’s California Adventure pays architectural homage to the former theatre). Even the original unwieldy name has been nearly lost to history. These days it’s best known as “Dan the Miner” or just “The Pioneer.”

After all these years, Dan pans on. Photo from the author’s collection.

The bronze plaque mounted on the side of the statue, dated to 1925 and done up in a fancy art-deco style, reads (complete with poor punctuation and missing words):

This fountain is a Memorial to the Gallant Pioneers of ’49 of whom Daniel O. McCarthy, patriot, miner, leader, was an outstanding example.

He was born Raleigh, N.C., August 24, 1830. Died Los Angeles, August 13, 1919. Through his newspaper “The American Flag” San Francisco, he helped preserve California to the Union. This long, useful life is a heritage of which the Golden State is justly proud.

The official plaque at Carthay Circle Park. Photo from the author’s collection.

The plaque fails to mention that McCarthy, the man for whom the Golden State is so proud, shot and killed an unarmed man (a business rival named John Davis) at the Tuolumne Restaurant in Sonora, California in 1862.

The Case of the Purloined Panner

In February 2008, a group of thieves cut old Daniel off his boulder and absconded with the gold-panning pioneer. At the time the was valued at $125,000.

Mr. McCarthy was found a few months later at a Los Angeles metal scrapyard by detectives from LAPD’s art theft squad. The scrapyard purchased The Pioneer from the thieves for just $900. The thieves were each fined $31,700 in restitution and spent 16 months in prison. No word on the scrapyard who most likely knew exactly what they were buying.

The statue had been bisected laterally through its legs, and it took some time to restore it to its pre-theft condition. The boulder at Carthay Circle remained vacant until January 2009 when the painstakingly restored Pioneer resumed his eternal search for gold.

You can read about the whole sordid affair in a 2009 post at the L.A. Now Blog of the Los Angeles Times.

The Pioneer / Dan the Miner

Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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