LA Public Art: The Lost Soldier of Los Angeles
I’m sure I’m not the only one that has walked by the statues at the northeast entrance to MacArthur Park near downtown Los Angeles and wondered what they represent.
I decided to find out. It was then I learned that “the lost soldier” isn’t just figurative. Los Angeles has its very own, very real lost soldier and it was a work of public art!
What initially got me curious about the statue cluster now colloquially called “Otis and the Paperboy” was why a paperboy and a General were grouped together. Breaking news on a war?
Not exactly. It turns out that Harrison Gray Otis was not just a General with a military service record dating back to the Civil War, he was also the publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Hence the paperboy and the lost soldier.
Before the General is another block of stone that once supported the figure of a muscular youth marching with a flag staff and partially furled flag on his right shoulder. He was dressed as an Army volunteer, a doughboy, in the uniform of the Spanish American War.
The group of figures was created in 1920 by the artist, society sculptor Paul Troubetzkoy, an actual Russian prince. It was created as a memorial to Otis, who died in 1917, by his wealthy friends, who funded the artwork including developer Henry Huntington and banker Henry W. O’Melveny.
Before we get to our lost soldier, you might have also wondered just what General Otis is pointing at. Or should I saw “was” pointing at. When the cluster of statues at MacArthur Park was erected, it marked the end of Wilshire Blvd (which now divides the northern and southern portions of the park). According to one source, the General’s outstretched arm is pointing to what was once large empty parcels of land for sale by a wealthy developer! Another account states he was pointing to his then home at 2401 Wilshire Boulevard just down the road which was then a luxury residential neighborhood.
As for our Lost Soldier of LA, the cluster of statues apparently served another purpose. To stop cars from missing the end of Wilshire and driving into the lake. I didn’t know cars went fast enough back then to have this be a real concern, but the cluster of statues was hit by enough cars missing the turn that it had to be restored in the 1940s.
You would think that when and how a bronze statue went missing would be known. But all I find on it was that it disappeared sometime before 1994 and that it was either stolen or likely hit by a car. Julie Silliman, an art projects manager for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, told the Los Angeles Times in 1996 that a car knocked the statue down and it was taken tot he Otis Art Institute for storage and that it was eventually melted down. However, Neil Hoffman, the then president of the institute also told the Times that the statue was never taken to the Institute and he had no idea of where it might be.
So there you have it. Somewhere in LA is a Lost Soldier worth quite a bit of money. Whether it was stolen, melted down or is in storage somewhere waiting for the city to decide to repair it or return it is one of the many mysteries of Los Angeles.
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Top photo credit: Creative Commons attribution license, University of Southern California Libraries and California Historic Society.