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To critics of SLO’s Teddy Roosevelt monument: We’ve heard you, and we’ve made changes

Model of Teddy Roosevelt statue by sculptor Paula Zima.
Model of Teddy Roosevelt statue by sculptor Paula Zima. Courtesy Photo

We are a committee working under the auspices of ARTS Obispo to bring to San Luis Obispo the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Legacy Grove, a privately financed public art project.

It is proposed to be sited within a grove of redwood trees in Mitchell Park. It will have as the central focus a contemporary sculpture of a seated Theodore Roosevelt, surrounded by several locally sourced boulders and granite paving stones

Our committee would like to express our gratitude to The Tribune and to Mayor Heidi Harmon for challenging us to improve our project and engagement with the general public. Since we announced this proposal in 2016, we’ve received far more support than criticism, but we welcome both. We’ve worked diligently to solicit input from the public, to shape the project to reflect the values of our community, and to honor not just President Roosevelt, but the conservation movement that he planted so deeply within the soul of our community etched with Roosevelt quotes on conservation.

To respond to our critics, we’re modifying the project by incorporating these features:

  1. We propose this name for the project: Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Legacy Grove.

  2. An interpretive sign for the project will include a frank description of Roosevelt’s overall record on racial matters, including the evolution of his views on Native Americans and other minorities. We invite our Native American neighbors to help us write this narrative.

  3. The etched granite paving stones with TR conservation quotes will be dedicated to local conservation leaders, sponsored by individual, family, or business sponsors to honor the legacy of local conservation leaders. Potential honorees could include, for example, Louis Sinsheimer, the longest-serving mayor of San Luis Obispo (1919-1939); Harold Miossi; Kathleen Jones; and Bill Denneen. Many others, living and deceased, deserve recognition for their leadership in preserving our San Luis Obispo way of life. Local Native American leaders could and SHOULD be recognized as part of this legacy.

Public Participation in the Project

The vision for this public art is to provide “a place for conversation, to discuss diverse or opposing viewpoints; working together to solve common problems.” The plan also envisions several virtual-reality features that will link online to digital archives related to the history of the Central Coast conservation movement to anyone with a smart phone.

To date, we’ve presented this proposal to many local groups including the Chamber of Commerce; service clubs like Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary and Exchange; neighborhood and civic groups; and even in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. We hosted two workshops at the Senior Center to review our proposal with neighbors at Mitchell Park. We are willing to present to any interested group, small or large, here or anywhere.

We’ve received letters of support from the Santa Lucia Chapter of Sierra Club, ECOSLO, History Center, Theodore Roosevelt Association and SLO Railroad Museum. The project has already generated over $56,000 in private contributions from over 35 donors; the median contribution is $125. We need to raise about another $100,000 to meet our budget and are actively engaged in this process.

Opportunities for input

One of the objectives of public art is to foster communication and debate among those whom it serves. There will be many opportunities for members of the public to help shape it to meet the shared vision and values of this community. We were to have our first public hearing on the project before the Parks and Recreation Commission, but we’ve just been informed by the city that any such hearing will be delayed at least six months, which would be almost a year since our application was filed. The project is also required to be approved by an appointed six-member jury appointed by the public art manager, and by the Architecture Review Commission before it can proceed to the City Council.

We appreciate the attention this project has attracted in recent weeks. We welcome all who wish to engage with us as we move this project forward. To learn more, please visit our web site at https://trslo.com.

Submitted by Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Legacy Grove Committee members John B. Ashbaugh, Paula Zima, Pierre Rademaker, Daniel and Liz Krieger and Benjamin Peterson.

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