Founding father lacking pedestal

Columbia: A statue of James W. Rouse has been relegated to a closet while its owners and community leaders settle its fate.

May 18, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Columbia's only statue of its founder used to stand outside an office building near the heart of town, a little out of the way but visible to anyone who cared to look.

Nowadays, no one sees the bronze sculpture of James W. Rouse. It's locked away in a storage closet.

"The vision of Jim Rouse with toilet paper stacked in his arms - it's just not a good picture," said Dennis Lane, a longtime Columbia resident who began prodding leaders to do something soon after the statue was moved indoors about 18 months ago. "Memories do fade; they fade quickly. His legacy needs to be remembered."

Officials with CB Richard Ellis, which manages and leases the building, said the intent was never to keep Rouse under wraps. They said several incidents of vandalism prompted them to store the statue indoors while they determined the best way to protect it.

And they promise that residents will be seeing the sculpture again soon.

In a town where the late Rouse is inextricably linked to the Columbia dream of harmony, diversity and community, it bothers some people that his slightly larger than life bronze counterpart is in storage. A handful of Columbians has attempted to get the statue back outside.

Lane, a real-estate broker with Ryan Commercial in Hanover who once worked for the Rouse Co., said he considers the man a hero.

"The statue should be relocated, put in Town Center - somewhere of prominence," he said.

Born in Easton, Rouse, who became a nationally known developer, founded Columbia in 1966 to be a "New Town," a place where everyone was welcome and everything they needed was in the area.

His statue was erected in 1986 outside the Symphony Woods office center, then owned by Rouse & Associates. Next to him stood a statue of the late Willard G. Rouse, his brother and executive vice president of the Rouse Co. Together, the pieces - which were secured in the ground rather than on pedestals - cost about $70,000 and were commissioned by the building owners.

The office center and statues have changed hands twice since then. PMRealty Advisors, based in Newport Beach, Calif., became the owner at the end of 1996.

About 18 months ago, building managers contacted the statues' creator, William Duffy, with a request: They wanted to bring the pieces indoors, maybe to display in the lobby, according to Duffy.

The Baltimore sculptor, who said one statue had been pushed off its foundation, said he helped wheel them into storage - each weighs 200 to 300 pounds --- and told officials that he'd be willing to reset the pair.

"I called back, and they said they didn't want to do it," he said. "They wanted to sell it to the Columbia Association."

Columbia leaders say they want the statues. But they haven't been able to work out a deal - although both sides are hopeful that they're close to an arrangement.

Last month, the Columbia Council authorized Charles Rhodehamel, the Columbia Association's acting president, to negotiate for the statues. The council approved up to $10,000 for the project.

Rhodehamel said Monday that he had contacted an intermediary recently and was waiting to hear from the company.

Chuck Breitenother, vice president of CB Richard Ellis, said the company is in negotiations to get the statues out in public again. He declined to comment on details until the deal is final. He expects an announcement next week.

"It's been decided what to do with them, and that's going to happen very, very, very shortly," he said. "It's unfortunate that they had to be taken out of that area in front of the building because of the vandalism."

He said the figures had been bent over. Breitenother said he realizes that some people wanted a quicker resolution, "but it is happening," he said.

The delay has left some Columbians wondering when the statues would reappear.

Joseph Merke, until recently chairman of the Columbia Council, had visions of the pair at Little Patuxent and Governor Warfield parkways. But he said PMRealty asked for significantly more money than the original price.

Michael Weitzmann, senior vice president of Liberty Property Trust, formerly Rouse & Associates, said his company has also attempted to negotiate for the statues. He said Liberty Property didn't get far because officials couldn't track down anyone with the power to sell the sculptures.

Lane's glad that the statues got on the to-do list.

"One of Rouse's favorite sayings was, `What should be, can be.' This should be," Lane said.

"It is just a statue," he said, "but the symbol of what it stands for is important to me."

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