Opponents of the placement of a 26-foot-high “Forever Marilyn” statue of actress Marilyn Monroe on the city street leading to the Palm Springs Art Museum are trying a new tactic — pressing the city to hold a public hearing on the planned closure of the street.
Designer Trina Turk and real estate agent Chris Menrad, who, along with others formed the Committee to Relocate Marilyn (CReMa) and an associated GoFundMe account last week, say they are not opposed to the statue’s return, but they are prepared to take possible legal action if city officials don’t hold a public hearing regarding closure of Museum Way for a planned three-year installation of the statue. To date they have raised $30,000 of their $50,000 goal for legal fees they might need. More than 120 individuals have contributed.
“We love Marilyn, just not in front of our glorious Palm Springs Art Museum,” Menrad wrote on Facebook when announcing the fund’s creation, “And certainly not blocking an access road that connects the Museum to Palm Canyon and better integrates it with the new downtown.”
The statue was popular with Palm Springs visitors while installed at Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way from 2012-2014. But it’s not without controversy. Designed to portray one of Monroe’s most iconic images — a scene from “Seven Year Itch” where the actress’s dress is being blown upward by the air coming from a subway grate — detractors here and elsewhere it has traveled say the statue promotes misogyny and reflects outdated attitudes toward women.
Local opponents to the Museum Way placement add that while “kitschy” art has its place, directly in front of the city’s E. Stewart Williams-designed art museum is not that place. As proposed, art museum visitors would see the backside of the statue upon exiting, looking directly up at Monroe’s underwear.
The statue was purchased most recently by a local hotel association in hopes of giving it a permanent home in Palm Springs. City leaders set about finding the right location, voting late last year to allow placement in front of the museum. Its installation is currently planned for April.
Having lost the aesthetics argument when the city agreed last year to place the statue on Museum Way, CReMa organizers and their attorneys are now questioning the legality of closing the newly constructed Museum Way without a more involved process, as city staff indicated was necessary last November. To date, their dialogue has been played out in a series of letters between the city and attorneys at a Hermosa Beach law firm.
“CReMa is concerned that the City of Palm Springs, along with special interests, have not followed the proper procedures for closing a public street in order to lease the space for the statue,” the group wrote on its GoFundMe page. “Public comment for this significant change in street usage was stifled.
“After years of ‘community listening sessions,’ Marilyn was to be placed on the east side of the downtown park near Belardo Road. Maps of park plans have been on view at City Hall for (two) years showing Marilyn there— not blocking Museum Way.”
City attorneys, however, said upon further review following the November public hearing recommendation, that because the street closure will only be temporary, placing the statue on Museum Way and closing it to vehicle traffic does not require a more thorough hearings process. There is no indication city officials will seek any further public input.
“Museum Way has been developed with retractable bollards at each end of this particular block, in order to accommodate temporary pedestrian and recreational activities, such as gatherings, art exhibits, entertainment, and community activities,” the city’s attorneys wrote in a Feb. 24 response to a Jan. 27 letter from lawyers hired by CReMa.
“The city’s current plan is to temporarily restrict access to Museum Way, by use of the retractable bollards that were installed years ago.
“Despite the November 12, 2020 staff report indicating that the city would conduct a public hearing in order to permanently vacate vehicular access to Museum Way, city staff and the City Attorney’s Office believe that it may be difficult, if not impossible, for the City Council to make the statutorily required findings that are necessary for a street vacation. Specifically, California Streets and Highways Code section provides that a street may be vacated by a City Council only if the City Council finds from all the evidence submitted, that the street … is unnecessary for present or prospective public use.”