Jindra helps raise awareness of WW1 Centennial in CA
By Mike Williams
The campaign to revitalize World War One memorials has truly become a national, coast-to-coast effort. Only two weeks after the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission unveiled the five final designs for the renewed Pershing Park in downtown Washington, city leaders in Los Angeles have announced a design competition for Pershing Square, the oldest park in the city. Work on the redesigned park in downtown LA is expected to be completed by 2020, and will be a major factor in the ongoing revitalization of downtown Los Angeles.
The square, which was renamed shortly after the signing of the armistice in 1918 in honor of the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, General John J. Pershing, has played an important role in the military history of Los Angeles. In 1924, a large statue of an American doughboy was erected to commemorate American soldiers in World War One. Additionally, in 1900, a memorial to the sacrifice of Californian soldiers in the Spanish-American War was erected, and the park became an important area for rallies, recruitment, and liberty bond drives during World War Two. After a 1992 renovation, however, the park got away from its roots of remembrance.
“It’s gotten away from everything, really,” says Courtland Jindra, a WWICC volunteer who has been lobbying for the redevelopment of the park. Mr. Jindra has been volunteering with the commission for over a year, and has been quite active in promoting World War One education and remembrance in the Los Angeles region. “I heard about the commission through the Memorial Inventory Project, and World War One history has just become a great passion of mine... I feel a little late to the game, but the more I read about it, the more fascinated I become.”
With the redesign of Pershing Square, Mr. Jindra has been corresponding with both politicians and the private organizations that are spearheading the redevelopment in order to highlight the importance of the memorials in the park. “As soon as I found the memorial there last August, I wanted to get it restored... I found out about the efforts to redo the park in late September and decided those might be the people to contact.” Through Mr. Jindra’s efforts, Pershing Square Renew, the non-profit tasked with redeveloping the park, and the local Department of Parks and Recreation agreed to have the doughboy statue assessed for renovation.
“Once they agreed to that... I was able to get them to agree to assessing the other memorials in the park at a reduced price.” Mr. Jindra been able to take his concerns to the highest points of city government through his connection with the WWICC. “Chris [Isleib, Director of Public Affairs for WWICC] opened some doors for me... [and] introduced me to people when he was here back in April.” That month, the two attended a meeting at the Mayor’s Office, where Mr. Jindra was able to share his ideas about the future of the park. “Ideally, I would like to see the Doughboy statue and all the other statues given a more visible, prime location,” said Mr. Jindra, referring to when the statues stood guard around the central fountains of the old park, “a lot of people that I know that go to the park don’t even know that that stuff is even there until I tell them about it.”
Mr. Jindra understands that it is often this lack of knowledge about World War One can be the biggest obstacle when lobbying for local preservation. As such, Mr. Jindra has been trying to organize several centennial events around the Los Angeles region to raise awareness of WWI.
“The city was trying to think of a way to restart the old Memorial Day parade,” said Mr. Jindra. After meeting with members of the Los Angeles County Veterans Affairs organization and the parade planners, he was able to successfully lobby for the starting point of the parade to be at the L.A. Coliseum. “They used to have huge ceremonies in the Coliseum [on Armistice Day] and get big name speakers there... the Coliseum was originally built in the 1920’s as a memorial stadium to Great War veterans, and not a lot of people were aware of that.” On top of his efforts to reignite past city observances of Armistice Day, Mr. Jindra has been coordinating with the Los Angeles Public Library for a World War One lecture series to run over the course of the next several years. Mr. Jindra met with the interim head librarian, who agreed in principle to the idea, but left it to Mr. Jindra to develop the program. “I have a list of topics through 2019. I brainstormed six topics for each year... now I just need to find speakers for all of them!” he said.
Mr. Jindra’s plans for a lecture series, a parade, and the restoration of the Pershing Square memorials are all part of an overall strategy for raising awareness of World War One commemoration. “I need events to be taking place [around L.A.], so that it’s not just its own thing [referring to the restoration of the memorials.]” By coordinating with disparate government agencies, as well as well as the private organizations like Pershing Square Renew, Mr. Jindra has ensured that World War One commemoration will be a profuse factor in the upcoming years of Los Angeles civic and daily life.
Pershing Square Renew, the organization spearheading the effort to redevelop the park, is a non-profit collaboration between the city government and private organizations. This means that, unlike the World War One Memorial in Washington, the Pershing Square renewal project will and has received government funding, beginning with a one million dollar appropriation in 2014. The WWICC was created by an act of Congress in 2013; as of now, no money has been appropriated towards the construction of the federal World War One Memorial. Please write your congressional representative today and ask that they vote for funding to build this important memorial. Currently, the commission operates solely with the generous donations of private individuals and corporations as well as the incredible contributions of volunteers like Mr. Courtland Jindra. If you are interested in being a volunteer, please visit the Volunteer Opportunities page.