This park had a statue. But one day he disappeared.


As I walked up the steps of Saturn Street on Thanksgiving morning, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. My cousin and I were on a walking tour of San Francisco and our final destination was Mount Olympus Park – a place I had never even heard of.

I was born and raised in San Franciscan and this park, elevated 570 feet above sea level, is considered the geographic center of the city. Not only had I not heard of it, but I had trouble finding it. We had to refer to our map, taken from the book “Urban Trails: San Francisco” by Alexandra Kenin, to help us solve the puzzle of the steps that lead to Mount Olympus.

When we finally found our way to the Mount Olympus stairway, we climbed up the stairs to see a giant pillar. But it was obvious that the park was also missing something.

The base, on the left. The steps of Mount Olympus leading to the park on the right.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

I quickly opened our guide to find out why this giant, vertical rectangle of boulders, with menacing spikes sticking out from the top, was missing its centerpiece. A line is output immediately. “In the 1950s the statue disappeared, and to this day no one knows what became of it,” Kenin wrote.

It couldn’t be true. Could he? Anybody know what happened to him?

A view of the bay from Mount Olympus, November 25, 2021.

A view of the bay from Mount Olympus, November 25, 2021.

Nico Madrigal-Yankowski/SFGATE

The statue itself, known as “The Triumph of Light”, has great beginnings. According to Christopher Pollock, historian in residence at the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks, former mayor Adolph Sutro saw the original statue, albeit a smaller version, while on a trip to Belgium. He admired the work of Antoine Wertz so much that he bought an enlarged version of the statue, made of concrete, and ordered that it be returned to San Francisco.

The effigy depicts the goddess of freedom holding a torch in her outstretched right hand, raised to the sky. According to Kenin, the statue depicts “the goddess of freedom prevailing over a male figure symbolizing despotism, who reaches out to her.”

On Thanksgiving Day 1887, Sutro presented the statue to the city of San Francisco in a grand ceremony. It was supposed to be the West Coast version of the Statue of Liberty, and the next day the local press dubbed the location Mount Olympus in its headlines. No one knows why, but the name stuck.

However, Sutro’s plan for the statue to be a beacon failed miserably. The torch, which was ignited by a generator Sutro had installed, confused boats trying to enter the bay. When they thought they were entering the line to cross the Golden Gate, they were actually directed to a multitude of rocks.

In 1894, the statue was in tatters. “Winds and weather took their toll on the statue,” wrote the San Francisco Chronicle. Sutro died in 1898 and his daughter, Emma Merritt, gave the deed to the land to the Parks Commission in hopes they could allocate funds for the statue to revitalize it and keep in mind the his father’s original plan.

"The triumph of light" statue, largely intact, with its newly designed park, November 1, 1927.

Statue “The Triumph of Light”, almost intact, with its newly designed park, November 1, 1927.


But it took years before the money was awarded for the statue. The Board of Supervisors allocated $10,000 in 1926 to repair it and build a surrounding park with built-in seating and walkways in the hope that people would visit the monument again.

By the 1950s, however, the statue was beyond repair. Vandals had ripped the sword from his left hand and his right arm was somehow completely severed, according to the San Francisco examiner. Pollock said the head of the Goddess of Light also fell off. On January 10, 1955, Resolution 3522 was passed by the Arts Commission – the monument known as the “Triumph of Light” would be removed completely.

Nobody knows what happened next. The remains of this once magnificent statue are still lost to this day. The Arts Commission’s Senior Registrar has confirmed that the disheveled statue is not hiding in storage. She said she had never come across any reference to the statue being housed anywhere on city property, and it’s unlikely it was sold to a private collector because it was made of concrete.

The park surrounding the pedestal was not created until 1926.

The park surrounding the pedestal was not created until 1926.

Charles Russo, Charles Russo/SFGATE

Today, the platform is still empty. Arnold Woods, in an article on the SF Open History website in November 2020, wrote that a new statue, titled “Peace”, by Benjamin Bufano, was to replace the Goddess of Light. However, in an email to SFGATE, Rachelle Axel, Acting Director of Public Communications for the SF Arts Commission, said, “We have investigated OpenSFHistory’s reference to various possible locations of the placement of the statue of “Peace” by Bufano, but we have not found anything to indicate that it is planned to place it on the empty pedestal of the “Triumph of Light”.

We may never know where the remains of the statue are hiding. Most likely, it was broken into pieces during disassembly. It had no monetary value, after all. But it seems something is missing when you visit Mount Olympus. Something must preside over our sacred city and guide us with an artist’s impression of hope.


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