What could Philly do with the 2,000 pound Frank Rizzo statue?

Statue of former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo outside the Municipal Services Building across from City Hall.

With critics, some Council members and even the Mayor’s Office calling for a discussion of removing the giant statue of Frank L. Rizzo from Center City — not the first time there has been a call to remove the former mayor either in statue or live form — let’s take a look at the Rizzo statue and what options might be in store for its future.

How difficult would it be to take it down? If the city decides to move it from its prominent perch across from City Hall, where could it go?  Into storage, or to some less central public spot? (See below to vote in our reader poll and see interim results.)  Other cities are grappling with similar questions, although mostly relating to Confederate-era figures, not political figures from the 1970s.  In Raleigh, N.C., protesters toppled a Confederate memorial, and some were arrested. In Baltimore, the mayor and City Council preempted protests by having four Confederate statues taken down in the middle of the night.  In Dearborn, Mich., a statue of Orville Hubbard, the segregationist mayor of the city from 1942 to 1978, has already been moved.  Twice, in fact, just in the last year.

The Frank L. Rizzo statue

  • Sculptor: Zenos Frudakis
  • Material: Bronze
  • Height: 10 feet, 4 inches
  • Weight: Approximately 2,000 pounds, per Billy Penn
  • Unveiled: Jan. 1, 1999
  • Commissioned by: The Frank L. Rizzo Monument Committee, donated to the City of Philadelphia

Option A — Removing the statue

Like the broad-shouldered former mayor, Rizzo’s likeness isn’t going to be a pushover. Its low-to-the-ground construction would make it a lot harder to topple than a goalpost or the slimmer statues elevated on pedestals, like the one protesters took down in Durham, N.C.

Attacking the structure with a billy club wouldn’t work — it’s bronze.

We asked a Penn engineering graduate student whether one could move the statue by tying it to the back of a speeding pickup truck and she said, “if you attach the rope to the base, you’re not going to do squat.”

Melt it? The melting point of bronze is 1,742 degrees. You could start a bonfire at the statue and it probably wouldn’t get hot enough.

Environmental factors could put a dent in it.  Bronze does not respond well to acid rain, urban pollution, and bird droppings, according to the gsa.gov website. But that might take a while, and critics have warned they won’t wait around much longer. Here’s a case where a few hundred pigeons might have more success than a few hundred protesters.

Option B — Relocating the statue

Philadelphia could do what Baltimore did with its monuments and just move Rizzo in the middle of the night.  Or take a vote for removal, like the city council of Lexington, Ky. (It passed unanimously.)

It could go into storage, like the bronze likeness of Penn State coach Joe Paterno that was taken down in 2012 and that is being stored “in an undisclosed location.”  We ran a poll last week asking readers: If Philadelphia officials decide to move the Rizzo statue to another public site away from City Hall, where do you think they should put it?

In total, nearly 60 percent of voters opted to keep Rizzo in a place of honor — either leaving him where he is now, across from City Hall (12.8 percent), moving him to the new headquarters (28.8 percent), or sending him back to his South Philly roots (18.1 percent).

Also, 35.5 percent voted to demote, recontextualize, or dispose of the statue entirely.  Moving Rizzo to a museum — where the man’s accomplishments, flaws, and motivations could be placed in historical and educational context — was the second-most-popular option, garnering 25.3 percent of the vote.

Full results from that poll are posted here: Reader Poll: Most want Rizzo statue moved, but where?

Option C — Keeping the status quo

The city hasn’t been ready to move the the statue previously and there’s no guarantee they will have enough consensus to do it now.  We can be certain, however, that any decision will be contentious. In the meantime, police can keep an eye out on Big Frank and protesters can keep egging the statue, spray-painting it, and both sides can keep circulating petitions until the next major incident erupts.

Option D — Changing the statue

Another way to deal with the issue could turn out to be a lot cheaper. Rewriting the statue’s plaque to include the controversies that surrounded Rizzo’s tenure as police chief and mayor, acknowledging his failures as well as his successes, might contextualize the statute in a way that appeases some on both sides.

Was Frank Rizzo racist, or just a product of his time?

Was former Philadelphia mayor and Philadelphia Police Department commissioner Frank Rizzo racist, or just a product of his time? His legacy will never be disentangled from Philadelphia’s DNA. How do you see Rizzo? What should Philadelphia do with the statue?

Posted by philly.com on Wednesday, August 23, 2017