Abraham Lincoln

Historical Background

1961, Merrell Gage, 3'2"h x 1'9"w x 2'd.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), the 16th President of the United States, the Great Emancipator and savior of the union, is appropriately our most revered President. In an age when political power is derived, not from the consent of an informed public, but from an ability to raise money from the rich in exchange for special tax, trade and regulatory benefits, Lincoln serves as a standard of leadership based on high intelligence, broad vision, and commitment to the public interest.

It is therefore not surprising that our country's most frequently installed monument recalls the character and accomplishments of Lincoln. Hundreds of sculptural portraits have been commissioned in his honor since 1860, when Leonard Walls Volk executed a bust of him at the time he won the Republican nomination.

One of these portraits was a bust executed by Dr. Emil Seletz, a local neurosurgeon and amateur artist, who donated it to the county for the new Courthouse in 1955. However, some attorneys who retained Dr. Seletz as an expert witness, referred to his prominently displayed gift during trial. Because of these comments, the Board of Trustees of the Los Angeles Bar Association and Presiding Judge Louis H. Burke requested that the County remove the bust from the Courthouse. In August 1959, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to remove it and eight days later, a plaster cast of a bust of Lincoln executed by Merrell Gage was temporarily installed in the Hill Street lobby. The temporary work was replaced two years later by a 564 pound bronze bust executed by Gage on a $5000 commission by the Los Angeles County Bar Association. In 1989, the bronze bust was moved out of the building to its present location at the corner of First and Grand, where a monument to Stephen White had stood prior to being relocated to Cabrillo Park in San Pedro.

This bust is one of a small collection of public monuments to Lincoln in Los Angeles that includes a bust executed in Lincoln Park by Julia Bracken Wendt in 1926 and a statue of "Young Lincoln" executed by James Hanson for the interior of the Federal Courthouse in 1940.

The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, February 1998.

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