FORT WAYNE — After 40 years of looking over Freimann Square, Gen. Anthony Wayne could be moving.
Mayor Tom Henry wants the massive statue of Fort Wayne’s namesake astride a horse to be more visible and believes the Courthouse Green might be the perfect location.
“As I drive by Freimann Square every day, he’s hidden from view because of the canopy of trees,” Henry said. “There are people in Fort Wayne who don’t even know he’s there.”
The statue of Wayne was dedicated in 1918 in what was then called Hayden Park, at Maumee and Harmar Streets near Indiana Tech. In 1973, it was moved downtown. In 1986, Hayden Park was renamed Nuckols Memorial Park for John Nuckols, the first black city councilman.
Henry said the statue was initially visible in its current location, but trees have grown up around it.
“Unfortunately over the years, he’s become almost invisible,” he said.
Everyone he’s talked to about the idea, Henry said, has been positive – with one notable exception. The Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trust, which raised funds for the renovation of the courthouse and the purchase and creation of the Courthouse Green, is adamantly opposed to the idea.
In a Dec. 5 letter to Henry, trust President Madelane Elston said the statue should stay where it is.
“On behalf of the Board of Directors, I encourage you to reconsider the statue move and work with the Trust on a redesign plan of Freimann Square to highlight Gen. Anthony Wayne for the public,” Elston wrote.
In a separate letter, Elston said that if the Courthouse Green is not protected from well-meaning people trying to place things there, “it could look like a carnival site,” and that moving the Wayne statue there “is the first step toward the carnival.”
For most of the courthouse’s first century – it was built in 1902 – the eastern side of the national historic landmark was hidden behind buildings and a parking lot. The Preservation Trust spent years and $3 million to buy and clear the land. It was dedicated as a city park in 1999.
So while the Trust has no legal say over the land and what happens there, officials have always given wide deference to its wishes that the space remain a unique and passive urban landscape.
“We’re trying to be open to their concerns,” Henry said. “We don’t want them to feel that we’re shoving this down their throat. So rather than just say, ‘It’s a city park and this is what we’re going to do,’ we would like to do something they can live with.”
To that end, Henry said he has offered to not only work with them on the location, the base and the landscaping of the statue on the Green but would also introduce an ordinance to the City Council that would add a restrictive covenant to the land to prevent anything else from being added.
Trust officials have responded with an offer to help the city with the landscaping around the statue in Freimann Square.
“Anthony Wayne could be brought back to life by correcting the landscaping while keeping two important community assets intact instead of damaging both,” Elston wrote.
Charles Shepard is a member of the Trust board who has also worked with the city on projects. In addition, as the executive director of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, he has seen many fights over public art.
“Anytime you’ve got a piece of public art, it’s always interesting because there’s always someone who wants it there or doesn’t want it there,” Shepard said.
“You can really find reason and balance in either side of the argument. … I really feel sympathy for both of them.”
He said people also need to remember we have a natural bias against features close to home that we would admire elsewhere.
“You go to Boston or Washington D.C. and see all the statues and landmarks and it’s great,” Shepard said. “We love it when we’re on vacation. We just hate it when it’s in our own hometown.”
Trust officials have always said the Courthouse Green should frame the courthouse and should never detract from its solemn purpose and architectural grandeur.
Al Moll, the city’s director of parks and recreation, said there have been only informal conversations about the move, but the department is preparing renderings of what the statue would look like in various locations on the Green.
“It’s a statue with key, historic value to the city,” Moll said. “We would like to showcase that more, put it in a more symbolic location.”
Moll admits that those who say the city should consider moving other statues first have a point. The statue of Maj. Gen. Henry Lawton is not in Lawton Park but in Lakeside Park, while the statue of David Foster is in Swinney Park instead of Foster Park.
Moll said the Foster statue was actually commissioned for that location, so its placement there is appropriate.
“At one time there was a school of thought to bring four or five prominent statues downtown, but that faded,” Moll said.
Henry believes the Trust’s opposition is not so much to the statue itself, but what it could lead to, mainly more things placed on the Green. That’s why he offered the restrictive covenant, thinking it might appease their fears.
“In my conversations with members (of the Trust), they were opposed to it initially because it might lead to other statues and things on the grounds,” Henry said.
Elston said they’re opposed to anything being placed on the Green.
“We also feel very strongly that Anthony Wayne is better served in Freimann Square where he is the star of the show, rather than in front of that monumental building where he’s competing with it and both lose the attention they deserve,” she said.
Henry said estimates are that the statue could be moved – including the cost of a new base, the landscaping, the move itself and redesigning the space in Freimann Square – for less than $100,000.
Henry believes such a total could be found in the budget, and if not, the new placement, especially with proper lighting, would be worthy of using Legacy Fund money.
But Friday, Elston delivered what she hopes will be the final nail to the idea’s coffin: An inspection by Glenroy Construction of Indianapolis found cracks in the statue and the base, which means the statue must be restored before moving. Glenroy President C. Lane Slaughter estimated the restoration and move would cost up to $600,000.
Glenroy was the primary contractor for the restoration of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis.
Reached Friday afternoon, Henry’s office said the mayor would review the information and meet with staff to discuss the concerns and develop the next steps in the process.
“I’m in no hurry for this. I’m not going to do it tomorrow,” Henry said. “But I’ve talked to number of different groups who thought it would be a tremendous addition to downtown, especially at night with the right lighting.”
Moll said that ultimately the decision would come down to the parks board, but he noted that if it was something the mayor really wanted, the board would likely approve it.