Letters to the Editor: What is Kevin de León’s motivation for renaming Pershing Square after Biddy Mason?

The Spanish-American War Memorial is seen in Pershing Square on June 19.
The Spanish-American War Memorial is seen in Pershing Square on June 19.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
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To the editor: What is the true objective of City Councilman Kevin de León’s effort to rename Pershing Square after Biddy Mason? Could it be to launder his name and reputation after the scandal from a couple of years ago?

Pershing Square was named in honor of John J. Pershing, commander of all U.S. forces in Europe during World War I. He led the men who were credited with tipping the balance of that war to the Allies.

The name of the downtown L.A. park isn’t the only World War I remembrance there. Sculptor Humberto Pedretti’s “The Doughboy” will mark its centennial this July 4; it pays tribute to the tens of thousands of Angelenos who served in that war, including 400 who perished in the conflict and its aftermath.


Indeed, the park became not only a place for historical reflection, but a gathering place to honor the city’s World War I fallen. Later, Pershing Square also served as an important gathering place for rallies, military recruitment efforts and Liberty Bond drives during World War II.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1970, Pershing Square was the site of a rally to draw attention to prisoners of war in Vietnam. Thousands gathered around a bamboo cage in the center of the park. Inside, a man sat with his ankles shackled to the floor. This incident, like many others regarding the martial history of the Pershing Square, has been largely forgotten.

And now De León wants to forget again. He wants to recognize Biddy Mason, who has already been venerated with a park downtown less than half a mile away from Pershing Square.

Pershing Square has been part of Los Angeles history for more than 100 years. Our city has a reputation for disregarding the past, but without it we cannot know truly who we are. We should not allow De León’s self-serving interests to rule the day.

Courtland Jindra, Hawthorne

The writer is a volunteer with the World War I Centennial Commission.



To the editor: Mason’s life story should serve as an inspiration to the American public, starting with the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, then branching out to all students throughout California, and finally making it to the other 49 states.

There are several excellent biographies about Mason, freely available at the Los Angeles Public Library. Deep and thorough knowledge of Mason’s life story should be a graduation requirement for all California students.

Additionally, I look forward to her getting a major biographical film detailing the incredible ups and downs of her life.

Merely renaming Pershing Square? Mason deserves so much more.

Ellen Switkes, Sherman Oaks


To the editor: Mason already has a place — and a park — in downtown L.A. It’s so powerful that it serves as the cover picture on an acclaimed 1997 book by historian Dolores Hayden appropriately called “The Power of Place.”

Biddy Mason Memorial Park is located next to landmarks like the Bradbury Building and Grand Central Market. It’s where Biddy Mason bought land and built her home. Through monumental artworks by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville and Betye Saar, the park tells Mason’s story from enslaved woman to wealthy philanthropist.


Pershing Square should be renamed. But let’s do so after the person who created it back in 1866: Cristóbal Aguilar, L.A.’s first Latino mayor, and the only until Antonio Villaraigosa’s election in 2005. Aguilar also saved L.A.’s municipal water system from privatization.

Add geographic and historical amnesia to Councilmember De León’s missteps. It is our existing Biddy Mason Park that is the real unsung hero of this story. It needs to be celebrated and preserved.

Bob Wolfe, Hermosa Beach