More than a year after the first vote to remove the statue of a former mayor from in front of City Hall was cast — setting off dramatic public debate, name calling, accusations, and at least one lawsuit — the deed is done. A crew from Palm Desert-based Art Collective removed the Frank Bogert statue from its base Wednesday morning and it was taken to a city storage facility.
The moment wasn’t without some last-minute drama, as locals on both sides of the issue –including Jackie Autry, the widow of famed resident Gene Autry — had a heated exchange at the footsteps of City Hall that required police presence to simmer things down.
In the end, after workers cut through bolts that attached the statue to its base, it was gingerly lifted by crane onto an awaiting flatbed truck and on its way to an uncertain future. The entire process took less than an hour. What comes next is unknown, as a group suing the city also hopes to find a new home for the statue, but has so far been unsuccessful.
The statue’s removal marked a watershed moment in Palm Springs history. For the past 15 months, a deep divide has revealed itself in the city, playing out at meetings, in the press, and on social media. On one side are longtime residents afraid history is being erased and Bogert’s reputation is being harmed; on the other is a progressive City Council and like-minded appointed leaders trying to make amends for some of that history.
Those both for and against the removal were present Wednesday morning. Those against the move – including members of The Friends of Frank Bogert that took the city to court over the issue – said they chose to peacefully observe the moment and not disrupt the removal. That was not the case the first time the city attempted to remove the statue in May, when a lone protester sat at the base of the statue and the city elected not to move forward.
“As much as I don’t approve of it, I still respect the law,” said Amado Salinas, the US Navy veteran who sat on the base of the statue in May, in reference to the removal.
At the heart of the matter are the actions at a one-square-mile section of land in the middle of downtown. Known as Section 14 and owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, it was the scene of forced evictions of many Black and brown residents from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. Bogert served as mayor during much of that time.
“He removed us from our land. We’re removing him off the city’s land.”— Betty Mayfield Taylor, Section 14 Survivors
The evictions were brought on by a decision by the federal government that allowed the tribe to enter into 99-year leases for the land. White business owners sought those leases in order to build resorts and other amenities that helped spur economic growth in the city. But first, they had to remove the residents.
Memories of evictions that followed linger in the community and led to the formation of a group – The Section 14 Survivors — fighting for reparations. Among the proposals put forward — outlined in a staff report here — are payments to direct survivors and assistance in building housing and providing access to education for descendants and “the community at large” that suffered long-term damage due to the city’s participation in the destruction of the community.
Pearl Devers, who heads the survivors group, said by phone Wednesday she was disappointed in accusations Autry made about conditions in Section 14 and the people who lived there. Still, she was hopeful the scene that played out wouldn’t take away from the significance of the moment.
“Thank you, City Council, for doing the right thing,” said Devers. “As chair of the Section 14 Survivors I really commend them for taking the courage to remove that statue. … All I want is justice for our people.”
For Betty Mayfield Taylor, a member of the survivor’s group board of directors who was present at the statue’s removal, that justice seemed to be delivered, if only momentarily, Wednesday morning.
“He removed us from our land,” she said as the statue was being trucked away. “We’re removing him off the city’s land.”