Abraham Lincoln is set to move to a (another) new home

Abraham Lincoln looks forlorn, standing hard-hatless in the dust and weed-choked ruins of an already forgotten civic center at which he has stood watchfully since he was ousted from his namesake, Lincoln Park, in 1973.

The statue was in Long Beach’s old Pacific Park, which was renamed Lincoln Park upon the unveiling of the monument on July 3, 1915, the 52nd anniversary of the Battle at Gettysburg. On that day, more than 50,000 people packed the park for the unveiling ceremony, while the big guns of the USS Chattanooga boomed offshore and fire alarms screamed around the town. The local paper, the Long Beach Press gushed: “Reaching across the span of 50 years, from 1865 to 1915, the spirit of the great-hearted Abraham Lincoln touched Long Beach as never before with the unveiling of this magnificent and enduring memorial, melting the hearts of its citizens and welding them into a band of loyal and true-hearted patriots.”

Crowds gathered to witness the unveiling of the Lincoln Statue in Lincoln Park in 1915. Photo courtesy of Long Beach Public Library.

The statue, a replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ “Standing Lincoln,” in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, remained standing at Lincoln Park for decades, in an era when Long Beach wasn’t so enthusiastic about knocking things over. For a little bit more than 68 years, the Great Emancipator didn’t budge. But then he moved around like an Army brat. When the city decided to build a new Civic Center, which would gobble up the historic park, Lincoln was carted up and put in storage for four years, one presidential term. He spent a bit of time atop the then-new library, where the only people who could find him were vandals who occasionally decorated him with swastikas and mustaches.

At last, in 1982, the Lincoln statue was moved to its current home on Pacific Avenue at the entrance to the now-closed Civic Center, where he’s stood proudly until about a year ago when the city turned its sites on a new City Hall, leaving Lincoln seemingly forgotten and fenced off among tall weeds and scraps of litter.

His tenure on Pacific hasn’t been a cakewalk. The town’s ubiquitous pigeons have shown him no respect and at one point, his nose came adrift from his face. City workers epoxied it back on, but later, when power washing the statue in 2002, city workers blasted it off again. Finally, a team of workers from the L.A. monument-repairing outfit Sculpture Conservation Studio repaired the face of Lincoln by drilling a couple of holes in his head (like he needed those) and reattached the nose using stainless steel pins. That oughta hold her.

And now Lincoln smells change in the air once again. The new City Hall is open, the new Main Library is open and a new edition of Lincoln Park is in the plans. But it’s not going to happen overnight. It’ll have to wait until the old City Hall is leveled, which will take between nine months and a year after demo work begins in January or February, according to Director of Public Works Craig Beck. Then there’s the business of leveling and grading the ground for the park, which will stretch from the library to Ocean Boulevard between Cedar and Pacific avenues.

Beck said the Lincoln statue will have a nice place of honor in his namesake park, which he says is targeted to open in mid-2021.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.