looking back

Looking Back – Francis Scott Key Monument in GG Park

By Kinen Carvala

One of the grandest statues in Golden Gate Park has been a part of its history over the last 131 years.

The estate of businessman James Lick (1796–1876) included a provision that would leave its mark on San Francisco – a towering monument dedicated to Francis Scott Key. In 1814, Key penned the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the song that was formally adopted as the national anthem of the U.S. in 1931. 

Monument FSKey fountain

Photos by Jonathan Song.

Sculptor W.W. Story labored on the statue for two years in Rome, then had the piece sent on a ship to the United States. The ship was not seen for months after it left port and was feared lost until the ship appeared in San Francisco after 187 days at sea.

Story struggled for years with Lick’s trustees to get the last installment payment of $20,000 for the statue due to a dispute over the monument’s design details. A judge decided in favor of Story. 

Monument FS Key square face 1

Francis Scott Key.

On the Fourth of July, 1888, years after Key saw the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812, the monument was unveiled in Golden Gate Park with Key’s grandson and various local dignitaries, including Edward B. Pond, mayor of San Francisco at the time.

The 1906 earthquake and fire nearly destroyed the monument. After the statue was repaired, park commissioners voted in 1908 to move it to the Music Concourse near the future California Academy of Sciences. 

After years of being outside and exposed, the elements took their toll until the monument was in need of not only restoration, but also relocation.

In the 1960s the monument was an impediment to an expanding Academy of Sciences. The city and Academy disagreed on who would foot the bill. The Academy finally relented and the monument was moved to where it can be seen today, at the east end of the Music Concourse.pano 3

 Some features of the monument are to be expected; Key himself with pen in hand towering over passersby, verses from the anthem inscribed around the monument at the top and near ground level and an eagle is perched at each corner of the monument above Key. Above the eagles stands Columbia, an early symbol of the United States before Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty. (A version of Columbia appears at the beginning of movies from Columbia Pictures.) Another animal, one familiar to park visitors, graces the monument between the eagles: bison heads.

portrait 3pano 1portrait 1pano 4Monument FSKey for detail

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