For many years, the little traffic island at Jasmine Avenue and National Boulevard in Palms was a local dumping site.
“It was just the spot where everyone dumped their couches, beds, washers and dryers,” said Lee Wallach, director of the Motor Avenue Improvement Assn.
The unwanted furniture and appliances at the median became such a problem that it seemed the city made daily trips to the intersection.
“Then literally, one night, a Buddha statue appeared and no one knows where it came from but the community was like, oh OK, there's a Buddha in town,” Wallach said.
The stone statue, raised on a large planter, prevented people from dumping bulky items at the traffic island. It’s unknown whether that was the intent, but neighbors embraced the Buddha, dropping off roses, daisies and other types of flowers.
“It really rallied the community, and people started taking care of the Buddha,” Wallach said.
All was peaceful in the Los Angeles neighborhood until one evening last month, when a man in a white sedan pulled over, got out and used a sledgehammer to decapitate the statue. Wallach said two people witnessed the incident but were unable to write down a license plate number.
“He was heard yelling about Al Qaeda and Muslim extremism and things of that nature,” he said. “I think this gentleman is a little confused and obviously a little violent. It's important we find him, educate him and help him.”
The crime left residents stunned.
“We're a very multi-cultural and eclectic community. There’s a big population of Muslims, Christians, Catholics, Jews … so people were just taken aback,” Wallach said.
Residents responded by leaving more flowers at the statue. At least one person left a large laminated card with a Buddha quote and urged readers to “please be kind to the Buddha.”
Councilman Paul Koretz, whose district includes Palms, visited the damaged Buddha as a show of support for the community.
Wallach said the vandalism was also reported to the Los Angeles Police Department. A senior lead officer for the area could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning.
Eventually, a new Buddha statue was placed at the traffic island. The statue was untouched for a couple of days until last week, when the vandal returned.
Because the statue’s head had been reinforced with a metal bar, the man had to make more than one trip to destroy it, Wallach said.
“He just had to pound it a lot but didn't get far, so he returned a night later and on the third time he really went to town and bashed in the face,” he said.
A resident printed a picture of the Buddha’s face and placed it on the statue, Wallach said. The vandal returned a fourth time and nearly decapitated it again.
Photos taken over a period of days show the statue’s gradual destruction, as well as flowers and notes of support for the statue.
Wallach said there’s an effort to raise $5,000 to replace the damaged Buddha, this time with a metal statue that will include a rock garden and video cameras. People are also asked to help rebuild the statue; those details will be provided on the association’s website.
“We're not going to let this hateful activity win,” Wallach said.
For more Southern California news, follow @latvives on Twitter.