Sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor’s statue of Robert E. Lee will be open to bids with a starting price of $450,000 and the requirement that it not be displayed in public. The City Council on Wednesday approved designating the piece as “surplus property,” which frees it to be sold. It has been housed at Hensley Field since it was pulled from its plinth at what is now known as Turtle Creek Park in September of 2017, near the thousand or so out-of-commission city-owned junk cars that are also stored there. The top bid will still need to be approved by the City Council before it’s finalized.
The approval came after a dizzying bout of amendments and tweaks, regarding how and where the statue can be housed and whether the city should attempt to recoup the $450,000 it spent removing and transporting the thing. It’s still not clear whether the buyer will need to agree to not show it in public in Dallas or whether that requirement extends beyond the city limits. The Office of Cultural Affairs will review to determine the scale of that language, and the City Council can amend it before approving final sale.
The vote was initially 10-5 in favor of selling it, but at least two council members said they accidentally voted against selling it. There were, at one point, three competing motions that required clarification from the city attorney. He cleared little up. Councilman Mark Clayton, who represents the neighborhoods surrounding White Rock Lake, said he wanted to vote for it to be auctioned, but he wanted to make sure whoever bought it wasn’t going to put it in their front yard. Councilman Adam Medrano, of Deep Ellum and Oak Lawn, initially voted against it but changed his vote to “yes.” So did Lee Kleinman, who noted his own confusion and said his initial vote was because he disagreed with a starting bid. He changed his vote to “yes,” bringing the final tally to 12-3 in favor of sending it to auction. “There’s no way in hell I want to be recorded as voting to keep the statue,” Kleinman wrote in an email.
A man who was not confused was Councilman Rickey Callahan, of Pleasant Grove, who continued to “argue from the other side” of his colleagues. He reported that his district is “90 percent minority constituents” and “maybe one” had said anything to him about removing the statue. He has long been the most vocal opponent of removing the statue, but declined to cast a vote in 2017.
“This ought to be seen by the school children and then they can make up their own minds as to what it means,” the outgoing councilman said. “Don’t hide history. Don’t try to cover history up. Let’s get it out in front of everybody. It’s one of the great equestrian statues you’ll find, and I’ve been all over Europe and Russia.”
Like Kleinman, Kingston said he was against having any sort of reserve price and clearly wanted to be done with the matter.
“We could have been done with this 18 months ago and the fact that we are not is evidence of a staggering failure of leadership,” Kingston said.
There has been talk of selling the statue since the Council voted to take it down and store it. During public comment, a member of the mayor’s commissioned task force to figure out what to do with the Lee statue said that a “private person” had expressed interest in purchasing it and placing it on private property. Another man claiming to be the great-great-grandson of Lee said his family wanted to buy it from the city.
Councilman Kevin Felder, of Fair Park, motioned to start the bidding at $450,000 “to make the taxpayer whole.” Callahan went for that. Kleinman wanted language amended to prohibit displaying the statue publicly in the city of Dallas; the initial agenda item barred its display from the city, which Kleinman was worried would cool interest from buyers.
“If we sell this thing and they put it in a warehouse in the city of Dallas, it would be contradictory to this resolution,” he said.
Kingston got him to OK language that require the buyer ensure that it “not be seen from anywhere in the public realm.”
But Callahan got the mic again. “We all know what happened in the Civil War 160-something years ago,” he said. “I hope this goes on another 18 months because all of my colleagues who voted for this deserve the kind of treatment and pushback they get. I will never stand for it, and this whole thing is just miiind bending.”
That doesn’t appear to be in the cards for the Lee statue, at least. The fate of the other, the Confederate War Memorial that the council voted to be removed from Pioneer Park in February, is currently being determined in district court. Fort Worth-based Lone Star Auctioneers has been contracted to hold the online auction for the Lee statue and has been asked by the city to launch it tomorrow, according to Ed Lanford, a co-founder of the auction house. He confirmed the starting price, but said the auction house had not received direction from the city about how the buyer can display the statue.