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2007 Dedication Ceremony
Since the beginning of the Cleveland Fire Department in 1863, death has been an unfortunate part of the job. In the 1960’s, the Cleveland Fire Department was hit particularly hard. Nineteen men died in the line of duty between 1960 and 1969. Two incidents involving explosions claimed multiple victims. The families, friends and co-workers of the deceased felt these sacrifices should be noted. In the summer of 1965, a monument was placed in Willard Park at East 9th and Lakeside. It was dedicated on October 12, 1965.
Cleveland Art Museum designer, William E. Ward, conceived the monument. It was made of slabs of gray and black Vermont granite. The Kotecki Monument Company completed the stonework. The monument contains the names of the deceased fire fighters. It also is inscribed with the CFD logo and the words “IN MEMORIAM OF THE BRAVE MEN OF THE FIRE DEPARTMENT OF CLEVELAND WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE PERFORMANCE OF THEIR DUTIES”. The monument remains in Willard Park to this day.
In the early 1980’s, The Standard Oil Company of Ohio (Sohio), whose world headquarters was in Cleveland, built a new corporate office tower on Public Square. They commissioned artist Claus Von Oldenburg to create a piece of public art to be placed in front of the building. Sohio was taken over by British Petroleum before the piece was installed. The new owners decided against using the art piece entitled The Free Stamp, and donated it to the City of Cleveland. The Free Stamp was placed in Willard Park opposite the Fire Fighter Monument.
In the early 1990’s, Cleveland Fire Department Chief Walter Zimmerer was on a tour of the City of Cleveland. He was on board Lolly the Trolley, a local tour company. The trolley stopped at the corner of East 9th and Lakeside to point out a piece of public art. The tour guide was giving information on The Free Stamp. In order to see The Free Stamp you had to look past the granite slabs that were the Fire Fighter Monument. Although Chief Zimmerer knew exactly what it was, he asked the tour guide to tell them about the slabs of granite. The tour guide had no idea what it was, so Chief Zimmerer explained its significance to the tour group. This was the moment that Chief Zimmerer realized there needed to be a new, more prominent monument, to the fallen fire fighters.
Chief Zimmerer contacted fire fighter Peter Jedick and retired fire fighter and past union president James Andrews. Together they formed a committee. On April 8, 1993, The Cleveland Fire Fighters’ Memorial Fund was incorporated. The purpose was to raise funds and build a new memorial. The committee was made up of Cleveland Fire Fighters: Peter Jedick, President, Christopher Sheehe, Vice President, Bryan M. Gallagher, Secretary, Peter J. Corrigan, Treasurer, James M. Andrews, Walter Zimmerer and Elmer Khal, Trustees.
In order to commission public art in the City of Cleveland a specific process had to be followed. Several artists were solicited to submit an idea. A jury was then seated to select an artist from those that applied. The jury consisted of art professionals, landscape architects, and a representative from the city. For this project, Pete Jedick of the Memorial Fund was placed on the jury. Minority participation was also required for the jury. The jury selected four artists: George Danhires, Luis Jimenez, Alison Sky and Elyn Zimmerman. Pete Jedick asked for Luis Jimenez to be placed on the list because he was familiar with his work and thought he would be right for the project. During the month of October 1993, the four artists were brought to Cleveland for interviews. The Memorial Fund was responsible for their travel and lodging.
Luis Jimenez, from Hondo, New Mexico, was chosen to create the piece. Jimenez worked with fiberglass, and his projects were large and colorful. After he was selected, Jimenez came to Cleveland again for a community meeting. The public was invited to this meeting to give input to the artist. Several of the people at this meeting had a family member whose name was inscribed on the existing monument.
The goal of the Memorial Fund was to have the piece dedicated by March 17, 1996, at the annual St. Patrick’s Day ceremony sponsored by the CFD Shamrock Club. This gave the board just under three years to raise the money, build the memorial and have it put in place. The proposed budget for the entire project was $125,000.00. A payroll deduction was set up so that fire fighters would pay for most of the project. The Gund Foundation, The Cleveland Foundation and other corporations were solicited for grants and donations. Sam Miller, from Forest City Enterprises, was instrumental in donating and soliciting other donors. Over the next few years the fund raising continued. The original date for the dedication, March 17, 1996, came and went. Jimenez was designing and fabricating the fiberglass piece, but a base to place it on also needed to be constructed. The base would display the names of the deceased. The cost of the base would be an additional $10,000.00.
In September of 1996, The City of Cleveland informed the Memorial Board that Willard Park was going to be closed for some time. They stated there was the possibility of building a hotel on that piece of land. Today Willard Park is still pretty much the same as it was in 1993. The City offered the Board a site on a strip of land in the middle of Ontario Avenue, across from what was then Jacob’s Field. It was deemed to be an unsuitable site. A year went by without a place for the Memorial. In late 1997, The Board was offered a spot in front of the Science Museum. Luis Jimenez came to Cleveland to look at the new site. He stated that the piece would be smaller than his original design. He also stated it would take about two years to complete the project.
Six months later the president of The Science Museum informed the Board that the Memorial could no longer be placed on the site. He stated that the statue and base were too large and the yearly ceremony would be too disruptive. The sizes he noted were twice that of the actual design. The correct sizes were in the blueprints that he had seen. As it turned out, the piece of property in front of The Science Museum was owned by The City of Cleveland. A property adoption agreement was signed between The City and The Memorial Fund and the site was once again secured. The property agreement stated that the project must be finished within two years of the signing. That would be the summer of 2002.
It was around this time that Mayor Michael White strongly suggested the board hire city architect Robert Madison to design the plaza and base for the project. This would add another $100,000 to the project. Reconfiguring the corner where the piece would be installed actually ended up costing several hundred thousand dollars more. As the costs went up, the fundraising continued. At the request of the Fire Fighters’ Memorial Board, a second fire fighter was added to the piece. Luis Jimenez stated this would cost another $30,000.00.
On June 14, 2002 a ceremony was held and ground was broken at the site. Work on the plaza began. Donated materials and donated labor from the trade unions helped to keep costs lower.
One year after the ground breaking Chief Zimmerer contacted Luis Jimenez to inquire about the project. Jimenez informed the Chief that he had not been working on the project for some time, his reason being that he was going through a divorce and was not allowed in his studio. The amended contract stated the project must be completed by April 2004. The flames had been sculpted and cast, but were not yet painted. The fire fighters were still being sculpted.
On March 17, 2004 the Cleveland Fire Department Shamrock Club held its annual St. Patrick’s Day memorial ceremony at the new site. The base was complete but there was no statue on top. The Board was still not receiving any updates from Jimenez on how far along the project was at this time. The deadline for completion came and went. The first mention of suing the artist was brought up at the board meeting of May 5, 2004. The idea was tabled because it was felt such action could delay the project even further.
Jimenez informed the Board that he does not like being forced into doing things, but did understand the Board’s concern. He stated he would be finished in the spring of 2005. Jimenez was also in disagreement with architect Robert Madison over the method used to mount the piece to the base. It came to light around this time that the flames were too wide to fit on the base. The artist blamed the architect and the architect blamed the artist. Jimenez stated he could cut two of the five flame fingers off the piece. This gave the piece a different look than originally intended but it was done.
During the board meeting of February 2005 the suggestion of suing Jimenez came up again. The Board worried that if ties were completely broken off with the artist they would not be able to recover the money that was already spent. The Board also wondered if they would be able to take possession of the partially completed piece. By April of 2005 the artist informed the Board that the flames were finished except for painting and he was sculpting the fire fighters. The Board discussed a modified contract with a new completion date and civil penalties if not completed on time. Jimenez refused to give a completion date.
From the beginning of the project the Board was required to take out a life insurance policy on Jimenez, until the piece was completed. The policy was renewed every year for twelve years. When the policy was up for renewal in December 2005 the insurance company informed the Board that it would not renew the Jimenez policy. The company stated that Jimenez was high risk because he had two heart attacks. The Board suggested Jimenez modify his will to leave the unfinished piece to The Cleveland Fire Fighters’ Memorial Fund if he were to die before completion. After investigation it was found that the original contract from 1995 had a death or disability clause.
On June 13, 2006, artist Luis Jimenez was in his studio working on a piece entitled The Mustang. The work was a large blue horse with red eyes and is depicted rearing on its hind legs. The piece was commissioned for the Denver Airport. In Denver the piece is known as EL Diablo, The Devil. Jimenez and his assistants were moving the statue when the cable that supported it broke. Jimenez was pinned to a steel support. An artery in his leg was severed and he was pronounced dead at the Lincoln County Medical Center.
The following month The Memorial Fund Board was informed that the executor of Jimenez’s estate was contesting the will. In the meantime, a local artist was found to finish the sculpting. The executor eventually agreed that The Cleveland Fire Fighters’ Memorial Fund owned the piece, all drawings and the maquettes. Local sculptor, Ron Dewey, travelled to Hondo, New Mexico and finished the sculpture in four days. A mold was made and the fire fighters were cast in fiberglass. A group of Cleveland Fire Fighters rented a large truck and drove the separate pieces back to Cleveland. By December 2006 the piece was ready to be painted and assembled.
On March 15, 2007 the finished fiberglass flames and fire fighters were bolted to the base. Two days later, on St Patrick’s Day, the annual Shamrock Club Memorial ceremony was held in front of the finished piece. Every year at this ceremony a family member of one of the fallen fire fighters is asked to lay a wreath. In 2007, Mrs. Lois Kilbane and her family had that honor. Mrs. Kilbane’s father, Captain Theodore Brenyas, was killed when a building collapsed on March 26,1947. It was the 60th anniversary of his death. Newly appointed Bishop to Cleveland, Richard Lennon, spoke at the ceremony. He was personally moved because his father and uncle were Boston fire fighters. Bishop Lennon also noted that he was born on the day Captain Brenyas had died.
Three months later, June 15, 2007, was the official dedication of The Cleveland Fire Fighters’ Memorial. A decommissioning ceremony was held at the monument in Willard Park. Hundreds of fire fighters and policemen led by honor guards and bagpipes marched from Willard Park to the new Memorial.
There were many times over the years when it seemed the project would not be realized. After three mayors, five fire chiefs, four artists, more than 14 years and almost ten times the budget, the Memorial was in place.
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