In Westlake’s Lafayette Park, you can see a decaying statue of the man who helped secure America’s independence.
The Marquis de Lafayette
Gilbert de Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette, was the son of a wealthy French landowner. When he learned about the American Revolution, he felt that the resistance of the colonists was a just and noble cause.
After serving as an officer in the French army (he attained his first rank at just 13 years old), he traveled to America to lend his aid to the revolutionaries. Upon arriving at the age of 19, he was awarded the title of general. He distinguished himself in a few battles before returning to France to drum up further support for the American cause.
And drum up he did. Along with the Comte de Rochambeau, Lafayette returned to the colonies in 1780 where he was named as a commander in the Continental Army. In this role he was instrumental in ensuring the victory at Yorktown and forcing the surrender of General Cornwallis. This defeat was a major factor in Britain’s decision to negotiate an end to the war.
Lafayette Park was developed from the 1899 land grant given to the city by Clara Shatto (wife of George Shatto, the gentleman who owned Catalina Island). Mrs. Shatto had one condition attached to her gift — the site be used to create a city park.
So the 10-acre area, once dotted with oil wells and numerous small tar pits, was planted with Canary Island Date Palms and opened to the public as Sunset Park. But, for some reason, local French organizations wanted to name the park after the Marquis de Lafayette. Eventually the city caved to their requests and Sunset Park was renamed Lafayette Park in 1918.
The Lafayette Statue
It took 19 years before Lafayette Park was decorated with a statue of its esteemed namesake. On March 30, 1937, sculptor Arnold Foerster unveiled his interpretation of Mssr. Lafayette standing atop an elevated concrete base. The sculpted Lafayette stands at attention, wearing full military regalia and a long cape. The figure holds a sword, point downward, just beneath the hilt.
The Lafayette Statue was made of concrete underneath a layer of plaster, and, like many other statues of the era, was funded through the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Regular readers will remember Mr. Foerster as the same gentleman who sculpted the Beethoven Statue of Pershing Square in 1932. He’s also one of the sculptors who worked on the Astronomer’s Monument that still stands in front of Griffith Observatory.
Unfortunately, the Lafayette Statue has not aged as well as Beethoven or the Astronomer’s Monument. Lafayette’s base has been painted over many times and the words inscribed upon it, Voici Mon Epee (Here is My Sword) and La Fayette, are unreadable at even a short distance. There are also some noticeable cracks that have formed along the sides.
But if the base is in poor condition, the statue is much worse. The hilt of the sword is nothing but a length of rusting rebar, and over the past few years, the marquis has taken a few hits to the face, resulting in an obliteration of the statue’s lower jaw.
Such an undignified fate for a man to whom Americans owe their freedom.
- 625 S La Fayette Park Pl (at Wilshire), Los Angeles
- GPS Coordinates: 34.061838, -118.283472 [ Google Maps ]
- what3words: ///grit.guess.tables
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