When members of Lakeland’s Historic Preservation Board discuss the fate of the Munn Park Confederate Monument next Thursday, they’ll have:
- A report from the city’s preservation expert recommending they approve the request to move the 108-year-old monument to Veterans Park.
- A larger audience than they’ve probably ever encountered.
The issue will be heard by the preservation board‘s seven-member Design Review Committee at a meeting that starts at 7:30 a.m. next Thursday. Normally the group’s monthly meetings are held in a small conference room with just a few chairs for observers. But this month’s meeting has been moved to the City Commission Chambers on the third floor of City Hall in anticipation of large numbers of advocates from both sides of the divisive issue.
The monument issue landed with the Historic Preservation Board after city commissioners voted 4-3 in December to move the monument and further decided in May that Veterans Park is the best location for it.
View previous LkldNow coverage of the monument issue.
Emily Foster, the city of Lakeland’s preservationist, prepared a four-page report discussing the monument’s origins, Munn Park and the standards that apply to the decision the committee will make Thursday. Among her findings:
- Munn Park’s design has been altered many times in its 134-year history, including the removal of bandstands and fountains.
- The monument itself has seen several changes, including removal of four marble cannonballs and a wrought-iron fence around it.
- The city of Lakeland’s designation of the Munn Park Historic District in 1992 was silent about the role of the monument and referred to the park as an “intrusion” and not a contributing site, likely because its design was drastically changed in 1961. (A restoration around 1990 brought back the circular paths that were added in 1910 to the then-26-year-old park.)
- While the park is on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, that designation “provides little protection from alteration, relocation, or demolition.”
- The monument is not unique or hand-crafted, but was mass produced, and several duplicates can be found elsewhere in Florida and Georgia.
- No significant Civil War events happened near Munn Park, and the monument commemorates one side of the war, while veterans from both sides settled in and built Lakeland after the war.
- The monument is unrelated to Munn Park’s purpose as a public gathering spot and a place to recognize the city’s founding.
- The monument’s design doesn’t reflect surrounding architecture, and plans to remove the monument will not affect the park’s layout. “Therefore, staff finds the removal of this monument will not adversely affect the character or historic or architectural integrity of the Munn Park Historic District.”
Foster’s report was supplemented by 84 pages of documents supplied last week by St. Petersburg lawyer Andy Strickland, representing Veterans’ Monuments of America, a non-profit organization he founded last year to advocate for preserving war memorials.
Strickland’s cache ended with a report from California land-use lawyer Philip S. Simmons arguing why the monument, which he refers to as a cenotaph, must be preserved at Munn Park. Among his findings:
- Historic preservation boards must stay above politics and vigilant against attempts to rewrite history.
- Lakeland’s land-use code gives the Historic Preservation Board responsibility for maintaining historic resources, so it would be inconsistent for the board’s Design Review Committee to deny that the cenotaph in the Munn Park Historic District is a historic structure.
- While some say the monument celebrates segregation and disenfranchisement, words spoken by then-Florida Atty. Gen. Park Trammell prove otherwise: “… today there is no north, no south, no east, no west in the nation’s heart. We happy and united people, with one accord, are laboring for the upbuilding of the greatest nation of modern times.”
- City Manager Tony Delgado’s argument in a memo to the commission that the Munn Park district’s designation as a historic area doesn’t carry protection is irrelevant.
- Delgado’s claim that cenotaphs are usually seen in cemeteries and veterans parks but not in city centers is “patently false.”
- Delgado’s statements that the monument doesn’t contribute significantly to the city’s commercial/economic history and its removal would not affect the historical significance of the district are subjective and unfounded.
- “The Munn Park Cenotaph is unquestionably a historic object, located in — and a central part of — the Munn Park Historic District. As such, it clearly falls under the protections granted by the city in its land use code, as well as meeting all the standards for protection under various historic preservation policies and guidelines.
Next Thursday’s 7:30 a.m. session starts with a brief meeting of the Historic Preservation Board followed by a meeting of the Design Review Committee, which is where the monument issue will be heard.
Members of the audience will be allowed to speak for up to three minutes each once Foster has made her presentation to the committee and a city representative has had a chance to answer questions. “Generally, comments should address support or opposition to the request,” Foster said.
The nine to 13 members of the Historic Preservation Board (there are currently 10 members) are appointed by the City Commission. The Design Review Committee, currently seven members, usually is selected from the preservation board members with the most seniority.
Decisions of the Design Review Committee can be appealed to the full Historic Preservation Board. From there, the next level of appeal would be to the Circuit Court in Bartow.
When commissioners voted May 7 to move the monument to Veterans Park, they specified that the move be paid with private donations, not tax dollars. It will cost as much as $250,000 to move the monument, the city manager projected.
Lakeland author/artist Fred Koehler is organizing an online auction of goods and services with proceeds going to the move-the-monument fund. The auction will launch “in the coming weeks,” he said today.
Some supporters of moving the monument have said they feel more people would have donated to the effort had the City Commission chosen Roselawn Cemetery as the site for the statue instead of Veterans Park, which is located close to graves from an African-American community that was displaced by the building of the RP Funding Center.
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