The Mystery Of The Disappearing Plaques


Pasadena Star-News
San Gabriel Valley Tribune

A wave of material thefts involving such metals as iron, steel, copper,
bronze and aluminum has prompted the Institute of Scrap Recycling
Industries, Inc. to warn cities, counties and state governments to
beware. Stolen copper wiring and plumbing in construction sites is
a concern, but sadly this trend has resulted in the disappearance of
bronze plaques throughout the San Gabriel Valley.

Historical plaques encapsulate that which we cherish: the memory of a
loved one, an account of meaningful periods in history, a remembrance
of vanished places once held dear. The theft of plaques has escalated
over the past two years and this brazen thievery is an affront to
our communities and their values. Those who snatch these precious
monuments do so with no conscience, selling them to unscrupulous
scrap yards for a menial amount of cash.

The disappearance of plaques locally is an example of a nation wide
trend and is the subject of a recent memorandum prepared by the city
of Duarte which states that the brazen culprits, for example, have
"lifted L.A. County fire hydrant brass fittings, and electrical wiring
near the 210/605 freeway interchange."

Not only do we mourn the loss of precious plaques, but this thievery
has cast a cautious light on plans to erect any new plaques. The Duarte
in Bronze Committee, initially responsible for the Andres Duarte
statue project in Duarte, carefully planned and purchased a lovely
bronzed plaque depicting the history of Duarte’s rancheros, which
was to be erected in the plaza under construction on Huntington Drive
across from Duarte City Hall. Now, officials wonder if it’s prudent
to place the plaque in a public place where it might soon disappear.

The Trails Restaurant Plaque sat only feet from Huntington Drive in
Duarte, in front of the homes built on the acreage where this once
celebrated Route 66 icon stood for five decades. The restaurant’s
memory is honored by the naming of streets at the site after rooms
at the former restaurant:

Waterfall, Crossroads and Hideaway. However, the ultimate tribute was
made possible by Fred Bowden Development and the Duarte Historical
Society in the form of a plaque. Sadly, it has disappeared.

The family and friends of the late Ruth Gardner (1908-2002) were
shocked and disappointed at the disappearance of the plaque dedicated
to her memory which was surrounded by rose bushes on the east side of
the Museum in Duarte’s Encanto Park. From the campaign to incorporate
the city in the 1950s to the effort to become an All American City,
Gardner so tirelessly volunteered for a myriad of community activities
that she was affectionately dubbed "the Energizer bunny." The cement
plaque foundation is now all that remains.

Monrovia has suffered the loss of cherished plaques. According to
historian Steve Baker, St Luke’s Episcopal Church has lost the
dedicatory plaque on the 1958 Parish Hall as well as the recent
disappearance of the original exterior lights from 1926 and 1965. "Is
nothing sacred?" he said.

Attempts to install anti-theft plaques will probably be
fruitless. Plaques made from less durable materials will not hold up
to the elements. Size doesn’t discourage these thieves. Last year
a 160-pound, 3-by-4 foot bronze plaque commemorating the Armenian
Genocide was stolen from the base of the Mt. Davison Cross in San

Regretfully, this troublesome trend has occurred worldwide. Last year
hundreds of bronze plaques valued at almost $7,000 in U.S. currency
were reported stolen from a Holocaust memorial in a Jewish cemetery
near Prague.

In Duarte and surrounding communities, the question is whether or
not stolen plaques will be replaced and whether future plaques will
be created. The final decision may be affected by a recent positive
incident in which a recycling center notified authorities when an
alleged thief attempted to sell a life-sized bronze statue valued at
$25,000. The cooperation of scrap metal yards and recycling centers
may be one answer to the escalating theft of plaques and statutes.

Abandoning future plaque projects and failing to replace stolen plaques
strips communities of the right to educate residents about local
history and to pay tribute to extraordinary persons and events. And
yet, to spend money on plaques that end up in a junkyard is a
waste. Each community will need to weigh the facts and make a decision.