After four decades, the drought is about to end for downtown L.A.’s Ft. Moore Hill monument
It’s so large, it’s easy not to notice it.
Its 400 feet of brick, mosaic tile and glazed terra cotta could be nothing but an odd retaining wall keeping what’s left of Ft. Moore Hill from falling.
On the speedway that Hill Street becomes between downtown and Chinatown, a motorist could never appreciate the structure’s eloquently worded tribute to military service, the pioneering spirit and California history.
“It’s the most historically and geographically important monument that nobody knows about,” said Clare Haggarty, manager of L.A. County’s art collections. “It’s where Los Angeles really began, and it’s huge, and so many people don’t know it exists.”
Its most distinctive feature, a 77-foot-wide wall of water cascading over multicolored mosaic tiles, has been dry since 1977, possibly contributing to its anonymity.
Now, after 40 years of neglect, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has set aside money to bring the Ft. Moore Pioneer Memorial out of hiding.
Within the next month, scaffolding will rise for the first phase of the renovation, replacing nearly 300,000 tiles that back up the waterfall. Then a shadow of past graffiti will be removed from the brick. Chunks missing from the bas-relief depiction of the city’s first Fourth of July will be refilled by hand to match the glazed terra cotta. Then, drought or no drought, the water will flow again.
No firm date has been set for the project’s completion, but it would be fitting if it came soon enough for a rededication on July 4, 59 years and a day after its first dedication.
On July 3, 1958, members of the Mormon Battalion of Salt Lake City, some of them descendants of the original military unit that played a key role in early California, reenacted the first raising of the American flag over Los Angeles 111 years earlier.
The memorial commemorates an episode when a battalion of Mormon volunteers stood guard over Los Angeles. The only religiously based unit in U.S. Army history, it had marched nearly 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Los Angeles via San Diego for a war that was over by the time it arrived.
The Treaty of Cahuenga, though not the formal end of the Mexican-American War, brought peace to California in January 1847.
Several months later, the Mormon Battalion, joined by the 1st Regiment of Dragoons and the New York Volunteers, observed the first Fourth of July in Los Angeles by raising the U.S. flag on a pole of two spliced logs that was reputed to be 100 feet tall.
Watch a scene that starts at the 46 minute mark of this 1960s TV show to see what the fountain looked like when it running >>
The event took place on the earthen walls of a fort the soldiers were ordered to build in defense of the city. It was named for Benjamin Moore, an officer who had been killed in a battle near San Diego.
The Mormon Battalion was soon discharged, its place in history secured less for military feats than for blazing a southwest route for the settlement of the new U.S. territory where many of the soldiers’ descendants then settled.