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Ernie Banks, His Statue, And Chicago History

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There's a quirky bit of Chicago history that's recalled in today's Ernie Banks announcement.

Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Nearly 50 years ago, famed artist Pablo Picasso was commissioned to create a statue for the then-Civic Center Plaza in downtown Chicago. (The plaza was later renamed Daley Plaza after the death of Mayor Richard J. Daley.)

That statue, unveiled August 15, 1967 but whose shape was revealed a month or so prior, was looked upon in horror by many traditional Chicagoans, who didn't quite understand Picasso's avant-garde artistic style.

47th Ward Alderman John Hoellen was among the Chicagoans who particularly disliked Picasso's art. In a resolution introduced at a City Council meeting July 7, 1967, Hoellen called for the statue to be "deported," preferably to Paris, France, and called the sculpture (according to a Tribune article):
... a heroic monument to some dead dodo, a Barbary ape, or some sort of Trojan dove. The symbol of a dead dodo would not be fitting because Chicago is a live, vibrant and dynamic city winging its way to old-world greatness; and certainly the symbol of an ape would be highly improper because Chicago has always led in architecture, business, and industry and [the city] apes no one.

Let me mourn for one moment the non-use of flowery language like that in present-day public discourse. We are the poorer for its disappearance.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that Hoellen, once he had accomplished his goal of sending the Picasso to Paris (of course, this never happened, nor was it going to; the Council nearly censured Hoellen for daring to criticize the Mayor's choice), he then had a suggestion as to what the city should replace it with:

A monument to Mr. Cub, who has brought immeasurable zest and excitement to our city, Ernie Banks.

Hoellen was certainly right about what Banks meant then, does now, and will forever, to the city of Chicago. And 47-plus years after he made the suggestion and 16 years after his death, Hoellen will get his wish, for a few days, anyway: a statue of Ernie Banks in Daley Plaza. Let it bring immeasurable zest and excitement in honoring the career of the greatest Cub.