Inside the U.S. Courthouse on Spring Street, you’ll find a marble statue of a young, shirtless Abraham Lincoln sculpted in 1941 and an accompanying statue depicting the ideal of Law.
Young Lincoln and Law
Many artists responded to a call for anonymous entries for sculptors west of the Mississippi put out by the Fine Arts Section of the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 1939 as part of the New Deal Art Program. The two statues would be put on display in the new Los Angeles Post Office and Courthouse.
But only two sculptors made the cut — James Lee Hansen and Archibald Garner. the resulting two sculptures — Young Lincoln and Law — still rest in their original places in the building now known as the Spring Street Courthouse.
Young Lincoln Statue
Young Lincoln stands in an alcove on the northern side of the Main Street Lobby. The eight-foot-tall sculpture carved of Indiana limestone stands shirtless and barefoot with a thumb hooked over the waistband of his pants. His other hand holds a book and the statue’s eyes are cast downward as if in thought.
Sculptor James Lee Hansen, then a student at the Los Angeles Art Center, was only 22 years old when he won the commission, and Young Lincoln was the first large-scale sculpture he ever completed.
Being a young man who was on the verge of poverty a few weeks earlier, the first thing he did after winning the $7,200 prize was go out and buy a car. The second thing he did was crash that car. The third thing he did was spend 18 days in jail. Then he finished the statue, which was installed without fanfare in March 1941.
Hansen used his own physique as a model for Young Lincoln, which was called “gangly” at the time. When asked about Abe’s lack of traditional attire, Hansen reportedly replied, “… from a sculpturing standpoint, it’s better to show the body without any clothes. That’s why I left ’em off.”
Young Lincoln made a bit of a splash on Twitter a few years back when screenwriter Zack Stentz posted a tweet about the scantily clad emancipator. So while the accompanying plaque says that Hansen used his own interpretation of Lincoln, portraying him as “a man of deep sentiment and understanding,” Twitter used such descriptors as “The Gettysburg Undress,” “The Separation of Shirt and State,” “Baberaham Lincoln,” and talked about his “legal briefs.” Many other comments referenced the statue’s uncanny likeness to current California Governor Gavin Newsom.
In an alcove on the southern side of the Main Street Lobby, directly across the lobby from Young Lincoln, stands Law. Sculpted by Archibald Garner, Law is clad in a sheer longsleeved dress. Her right hand holds a tablet that reads, “No law is stronger than the public sentiment where it is to be enforced” (a quote from none other than Abraham Lincoln). Her left hand gestures toward the tablet and she, like Lincoln, is barefoot.
Like Young Lincoln, Law was sculpted from a block of Indiana limestone. The statue was installed on its pedestal in 1941 and has been standing there ever since.
Finding the Young Lincoln and Law Statues
Even though the two statues are installed on the Main Street side of the Spring Street Courthouse, these days the doors from Main Street are off limits to the public. You have to enter on the Spring Street side.
Navigating the building can be a little confusing. To get to the Main Street Lobby after entering on Spring, take the escalator or stairs up one level to the 2nd floor. Then find the bank of elevators and take elevator down to Mezzanine. Exit the elevators, turn right, and you’ll be in the Main Street Lobby.
Young Lincoln Statue and Law Statue
- 312 N Spring St, Downtown
- GPS Coordinates: 34.055163, -118.241508 [ Google Maps ]
- what3words: ///dips.speeds.juror (an oddly appropriate happenstance)
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