Father Junípero Serra, born in Spain in 1713, was a Franciscan friar who sailed to the Americas in 1749 to bring the gospel to the California natives. He founded nine of the California Missions, founding San Buenaventura in 1782, just two years before he died. In 1773, when new Spanish colonists were abusing the rights of the natives, Father Serra walked all the way to Mexico City to demand a bill of rights for the Chumash from the Spanish Viceroy.
Father Serra worked with the natives to found Ventura by constructing permanent buildings, farms, and water sources to bring together both natives and immigrants alike into one thriving community. Father Serra was called by many "the apostle of California" and has long held an honored place in California's diverse and culturally collaborative history.
The Father Junípero Serra monument has stood as a city landmark in front of the Ventura City Hall since 1936. In 1989, the City replaced the original deteriorating concrete statue with an exact replica in bronze, calling it a "landmark renewed."
In June 2020, activists threatened to tear down Father Serra's statue, claiming he represents former persecution and cultural suppression of Chumash people. July 1, the City Council illegally removed the landmark status of the statue and voted 6-0 to remove it along with a duplicate wooden statue inside the City Hall. And on July 23, under cover of darkness, at 3am, the Father Serra monument was dismantled, strapped to a truck, and shipped to an undisclosed warehouse, apparently later to be hidden away in the Mission gardens. The City has not revealed how it has disposed of the wooden statue.
We demand our Father Serra monument be brought back to its rightful place, in front of the City Hall, overlooking the city he founded!
On July 21, 2020, the Coalition for Historical Integrity (CHI), a grassroots organization in Ventura, filed a petition for writ of mandate asking the Ventura County Superior Court to void the actions taken by the Ventura City Council on July 15. These actions include the vote that the Father Serra statue was not a historical landmark and the vote to remove both that statue and the wooden statue of Father Serra inside City Hall.
The lawsuit also asked for an immediate order from the Court preventing the City from removing the statue while the lawsuit is pending. The City opposed the request, stating that “There is a serious risk of damage to the statue if it is left in its current location,” and that the City was removing the statue “for safekeeping.” Based largely on the argument that the statue was in danger of vandalism and destruction while in front of City Hall, the Court denied CHI’s motion and allowed the city to remove the statue to a undisclosed storage facility, with the understanding that the City will have to return the statue to its location in front of City Hall if it loses the lawsuit.
Despite this initial setback, CHI will continue with its lawsuit to reverse the City Council’s illegal resolution that the statue was not a historic landmark and its evasion of California environmental regulations that would require an environmental review before the statue can be permanently removed.
Check back regularly for more updates in the legal battle!