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Sutro’s Triumph of Light Statue

by Susan Saperstein

San Francisco maps from the early 1900s show a depiction of the Statue of Liberty on a hill above 17th Street, near Clayton Street. This rise is called Mount Olympus, and at the time, was considered the geographic center of San Francisco. Adolph Sutro—silver baron, philanthropist, and one-time mayor—owned the land. And, as he did on his other property, Sutro installed a statue.

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The monument was 12 feet high, on a base of 30 feet.

Like Sutro’s other statuary, this was a Belgian copy of something he saw on his travels. The Triumph of Light depicted Lady Liberty victorious over Despotism.

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The monument in 1927 after the Department of Public Works renovated the area.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1887, a crowd congregated at the no-longer-existing intersection of Ashbury and 16th Streets for the statue’s dedication. There was a band, invited dignitaries, school children, and a poet. Sutro presented his statue as a gift to the City, telling the crowd, “May the light shine from the torch of the Goddess of Liberty to inspire our citizens to good and noble deeds for the benefit of mankind.”

The sculptor, Antoine Wiertz (1806 - 1865), intended the original to be part of a series entitled, The History of Humanity in Four Epochs. (He completed only three of the pieces in this series.) Many sources claim that the original Triumph of Light was inspiration for Statue of Liberty creator Frédéric Bartholdi. There is no evidence to prove this. More likely, people associated the two because the Statue of Liberty was brought to New York the year before Sutro installed his statue.



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In this 1904 map of San Francisco, the statue is represented in the center. Courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection.

The monument became one of City Engineer Michael O’Shaughnessy’s special building projects. In the Report of the Bureau of Engineering of the Department of Public Works, City and County of San Francisco (1926 -1927), a project is listed “to make the monument more accessible and pleasing in appearance.” This included constructing concrete retaining walls, stairs, and placing loam around the statue for plantings.

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The statue has crumbled away in this 1947 photo. No buildings or trees surrounded the monument to block the view.

As the years passed, the history of the statue and Sutro faded from people’s memories and its condition deteriorated. In 1938 the San Francisco Chronicle referred to it as the Mystery Monument. In 1954, the paper reported that the San Francisco Arts Commission declared the statue was “beyond repair and should be demolished in the near future.” There was talk of replacing it with a Benjamin Bufano statue that was in storage.

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The monument base today.

Carol Glanville, president of the Mount Olympus Neighborhood Association, gave GuideLines the following information about the monument:



See our article on Sutro Heights statues and offerings, titled Diana Statue in Sutro Heights Park.

Question for our readers: Does anyone know what happened to the section of 16th Street that intersected with Ashbury? Send any knowledge you might have to guidelines@cityguides.org.

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