looking back

‘Looking Back’: Doughboy Statue

By Kinen Carvala

Why would one Golden Gate Park memorial need three dedications?

America’s participation in World War I spurred the creation of memorials not just honoring a hometown’s fallen soldiers, but a memorial could be dedicated to deceased members of a connected organization.

A ceremony on Nov. 6, 1927, started with a parade from Oak and Stanyan streets to the Grove of Memory off of “Main Drive” (now JFK Drive) near Fulton Street and 16th Avenue.

The Grove of Memory Association was comprised of members from two California heritage associations – the Native Sons and the Native Daughters of the Golden West – according to W. M. Strother writing for “The Municipal Employee.”

Thirty-nine redwood trees in the grove honored the 39 San Francisco members of the Native Sons of the Golden West who died serving in World War I, then known as the “World War” or “Great War.” Each redwood tree had a name tag of one of the fallen San Francisco soldiers, but the tags are no longer present today. A seven-foot-tall boulder was installed, along with a plaque with names of the 39 fallen soldiers. More than 500 people attended the ceremony, which included the vice president of the Grove of Memory Association presenting American and California flags to Troop 82 of the Boy Scouts. The troop was described by the Nov. 7, 1927, SF Examiner as “guardian” of an older grove of memory on Sloat Boulevard and Junipero Serra Highway.

The Grove of Memory Association planned to fundraise for adding a seven-foot-tall statue of a soldier, sculpted by Melvin Earl Cummings, a member of San Francisco’s Park Commission, according to “The Municipal Employee,” a magazine for San Francisco city employees.

The Doughboy Statue, dedicated to the soldiers who died in World War I, is located northwest of the intersection of Stow Lake and JFK drives in Golden Gate Park. Photo by Michael Durand.

Cummings’s artistic career had already produced works for the Golden Gate Park, such as statue of Robert Burns and the sundial monument to California explorers, when his statue of a soldier – called the “The San Francisco Gold Star” – was included as part of the 1929 All-American Exhibition of Contemporary Sculpture held by the National Sculpture Society at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor (where Cummings was on the Board of Trustees).

After “The San Francisco Gold Star” statue was placed on top of the boulder in the Grove of Memory in Golden Gate Park, it became known as “The Doughboy,” a term for World War I soldiers. (Christopher Pollock’s book on Golden Gate Park attributes the use of the word “doughboy” to refer to World War I infantrymen whose uniform buttons resembled dough-based treats in care packages.)

The statue’s description from the Nov. 3, 1929, SF Examiner describes a gold star in the center of the wreath the soldier is holding to his chest, but no such star is visible there today, though various stars are found throughout the wreath.

The plaque on the front of the memorial reads:










Cumming’s Doughboy statue was unveiled at the Grove in a ceremony on June 1, 1930. A municipal band played the song “Roses of Picardy,” Picardy being a region in northeast France that saw fierce fighting during World War I. Native Son Gustave J. Nonnenmann, whose name is on the memorial plaque, is buried in Picardy’s Oise-Aisne American Cemetery. Gustave’s brother, Albert W. Nonnenmann, was also a Native Son from San Francisco who died in the war and his name is also listed on the plaque. Both brothers’ names are also listed on another monument in Golden Gate Park – the Gold Star Mothers’ Rock off of JFK Drive by 10th Avenue. SF Mayor James Rolph accepted the statue on behalf of San Francisco from Mrs. William H. Urmy, president of the Grove of Memory Association. Various officers from the Native Sons were in attendance, according to the SF Chronicle.

Sixteen additional names were added on the plaque after World War II; the dedication date on the plaque now reads June 3, 1951. A party for the playing-card game whist was one way the Native Sons raised funds for the World War II names to be added to update the 1930 plaque, according to The Grizzly Bear, the organization’s official publication.

On Nov. 11, 2019, Veterans Day, the Native Sons and Daughters held an observance at the Doughboy Monument, according to the newsletter of San Francisco’s “parlor” or chapter of the Native Sons.

The Doughboy statue and plaque are roughly 350 feet northwest of the intersection of JFK Drive and Stow Lake Drive and are visible from the intersection. The U.S. and California flags on white flagpoles on either side of the monument stand out apart from the trees. A small plaque, roughly the size of a postcard, with the text “N. D. G. W. and N. S. G. W. Redwood Memorial Grove” is in the ground next to the sidewalk on the north side of JFK Drive, 250 feet west of the intersection with Stow Lake Drive. The small plaque is next to a junction of the JFK Drive sidewalk and a path branching off north into the grove.

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