Will sun again shine on McKinley’s marble steps? – January 7, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

PLAZA – The Dead White Male’s buried white base might soon see daylight for the first time in 20 years.

Installed in 1906 as a gift to Arcata by George Zehndner, the statue of William McKinley and its 25-ton marble base stood fully exposed until 1990. That was when the Plaza underwent a still-controversial renovation, and the marble steps were covered with a planter in an effort to discourage drug-dealing hangabouts from doing business there.

Now, with the planter’s vegetation routinely trampled by crowds during holidays and special events, Plaza beautification volunteers have grown weary of having their work ruined. Rather than abandon the planter and have it become a perpetual dirt pile at Big Bill’s feet, serious talk is bubbling up in City Hall over removing it altogether, thus restoring the statue’s classic countenance.

“There is a discussion to ‘retro back’ to what the original Plaza look was,” said Doby Class, director of Public Works.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Demolition of the planter will require an environmental assessment under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The cost of the planter removal is as yet unknown, and no money has been budgeted for it.

Further, after two decades under dirt, it might be a mistake to expect gleaming marble surfaces to re-emerge.

“I’ve heard that they left the steps in good condition,” Class said. “But any time you have heavy equipment moving, you never know.”

Also, he pointed out, marble does stain, and the white marble might be a duller shade by now.

Class said the matter will come up during the City Council’s annual goal-setting sessions in a few months.

The step restoration project already has one fairly influential fan.

“I would love it,” said history enthusiast and Mayor Alex Stillman.

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