This is the first part of a post by Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez on a little-known statue for a largely-forgotten figure from the American Revolution, Haym Salomon. Enjoy and check back soon for the next installment! – Paul R. Spitzzeri
In June 2008, a small rededication ceremony was held for a newly-installed, twelve-foot tall statue at the southeast corner of Pan Pacific Park at the intersection of S. Gardner and W. 3rd Streets in West Los Angeles, next door to The Grove shopping center. The name of the subject, who played a pivotal role in the American Revolution, is rendered with a simple etching at the center of the concrete platform: Haym Salomon 1740 – 1785 American Patriot.
The 2008 plaque added to the figure hints the statue might have traveled a somewhat circuitous route before arriving at its current location, but no timeline is given. But, a smaller engraving at the work’s base reveals that the statue’s beginnings go much further back than 2008; yet, it hardly begins to tell the entire story of the Haym Salomon Statue.
Actually, the statue was initially unveiled at a local park in Boyle Heights in 1944 with great ceremonial fanfare and media coverage. At the time, the new park monument also served as a focal point for a spirited war bond drive in a neighborhood that was considered one of the largest working-class Jewish enclaves outside the east coast.
Two mayors in three different decades issued proclamations in recognition of the statue’s symbolic importance, including Fletcher Bowron in 1944 and 1951 and Sam Yorty in 1969. However, by the time of the 2008 rededication, it also earned the unique distinction, according to the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, of being the most removed, relocated, and rededicated park statue in the city’s history.
But Los Angeles is not the first city to have a Haym Salomon statue. In December 1941, the city of Chicago dedicated the Herald Square Monument, which comprises three statues depicting the Revolutionary War figures of George Washington, Robert Morris, and Haym Salomon, standing side-by-side.
The idea for a Haym Salomon statue in Los Angeles was introduced the following year by sculptor Robert Paine, who’s most noted public work in California is the two stone cats he sculptured for the entrance of a large private estate in Los Gatos. Paine petitioned the Los Angeles Parks Commission to approve a site for a monument he would sculpture, claiming it would greatly assist the city’s war bond-selling campaign. In February 1943, delegates from several posts of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States organization endorsed a plan to hold a Haym Salomon Day at Pershing Square, located in the center of downtown Los Angeles, where the statue would be officially unveiled.
To solicit private donations for the project and extoll the historical significance of Salomon, several prominent citizens created the Haym Salomon Day Committee. Taking an active lead in the project, Beverly Hills physician and Jewish art authority, Dr. Monte Salvin, presided as chairman of the committee.
But what were the significant contributions made by Salomon that earned him a public memorial?
Haym Salomon had a life story that deeply resonated with many Jewish Americans. The subject of several popular books for adults and children, as well as academic studies, Salomon has been regarded as a figure that embodied both the ideals of a loyal American patriot and a devoted Jew.
A descendant of Sephardic Jews, Haym Salomon was born in Poland in 1740. He traveled throughout Europe before immigrating to the United Colonies and eventually settling in New York in 1775. Fluent in several languages, he worked as a trading goods broker but was later arrested and imprisoned by British forces as a suspected spy for the colonists. Eventually gaining his freedom, he fled to Philadelphia in 1778. There, Salomon established a successful brokerage business, had a family, and became one of the city’s most prominent individuals.
Like many prosperous colonials, Salomon was also, as some biographical sketches of his life have noted, a slave owner. He published a reward notice in the Dunlap and Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser on Nov. 18, 1780, offering $600 dollars for the capture and return of a “RUN AWAY slave” named “Joe.”
In 1781, Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance enlisted Salomon to broker government notes to help finance the war for independence. Morris wrote in his diary that Salomon was highly respected for his ability to repeatedly obtain desperately-needed loans from foreign and domestic sources, and reportedly took little or no commission for his services.
Salomon also extended personal, interest-free loans to certain members of Congress, including James Madison. He was also an active member and philanthropic benefactor of Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel Synagogue. Salomon also spearheaded a protest against a state law barring non-Christians from holding public office. The law was removed in 1790, but Salomon did not live to see this change take place.
Salomon invested heavily in government securities and notes and experienced severe financial reverses when these rapidly depreciated after the war, leaving him practically insolvent. This kind of financial implosion was not uncommon among investors and traders after the revolution. For example, Robert Morris, one of the signers to the Declaration of Independence, also went bankrupt and spent several years in debtor’s jail. After all he had done to advance the cause of the revolution, Salomon, nearly bankrupt, died on January 6, 1785. He was buried in the Mikveh Israel Cemetery but his estate couldn’t afford a headstone, leaving the exact location of his gravesite uncertain to this day.
With Salomon’s legacy as their motivation, the plans for the project put forth by the Haym Salomon Day Committee started to come together in September 1943 with the city offering Terrace Park in the Pico Union District as the venue rather than Pershing Square.
However, on October 18, with the proposed statue already experiencing prospects for site relocation, The Los Angeles Times reported that Hollenbeck Park was the new official site. The Times also reported that the statue would be presented to the city as a tie-in to a United States War Bond selling program in support of the ongoing war effort.