The image of Myrna Loy once again graces the front lawn of Venice High School.
Absent for nearly a decade, a statue of the movie star who was a student in the early years of the high school, has re-emerged in the spot where a former version stood for most of the 20th century.
The seven-foot bronze figure, with its head tilted upward, left arm outstretched and right arm pointed back, is a replica of the old piece that was a fixture in front of the main building before years of decay and vandalism led to its removal in the early part of this century.
High school alumni were determined to bring back the longtime icon on campus and finally unveiled the re-created statue to the public during a ceremony Saturday, April 10th. Event attendees, including local community members, school representatives and alumni, some from classes as far back as the 1930s, expressed their Gondolier pride as they marked the return of one of the school’s most notable students.
“When I saw the statue unwrapped for the first time and placed on the pedestal in front of the high school, there are no words to describe how I felt. It’s just beyond beautiful,” said Laura Ferre, a 1976 graduate and president of the Venice High Alumni Association. “I’m just overjoyed that it’s finally happening.”
Among the visitors to the dedication ceremony was alumna and actor Beau Bridges, the master of ceremonies who recalled appearing in a film with Loy as a young boy. Festivities included music performances, screenings of Loy movies, student fundraising booths, as well as an alumni association booth where old yearbooks and a timeline of school events were on display.
“I think the whole community is embracing in this beauty and reconnection,” Ferre said of the Myrna Loy Statue’s return.
Referring to the number of alumni from classes spanning decades, Venice High Principal Lonnie Wallace called the gathering “kind of an all-class reunion of sorts.”
Ferre, whose family has four generations of Venice High graduates, said the school community has rejoiced in the statue’s dedication because the former figure touched so many people’s lives over the eight decades it was part of the school. Many alumni who became accustomed to Loy’s image during their time as students felt there was a void when the statue was taken down but “the void is now filled again,” Ferre said.
Tom Anderson, a 1952 graduate and historian with the alumni association, explained that the statue was created during the “golden age” of art at the high school, when Harry Winebrenner headed the art department. Winebrenner, a nationally recognized sculptor, created a sculpture design in 1920 with four figures, one sitting near the street representing “meditation-study” and a group of three others closer to the main building. Two of the three were kneeling figures — a man representing “manual labor” and a woman for “fine and intellectual arts” —while a central figure was a standing woman representing “aspiration,” or “inspiration.”
Winebrenner chose to replace the central figure in 1923 with one showing a more elegant pose, and he asked a shy dance student, Myrna Williams, to be a model for this image of “inspiration.” Williams began an acting career after her graduation and changed her name to Myrna Loy, eventually appearing in over 100 films.
As Loy became a star in movies such as the Thin Man series, the statue she once posed for at Venice High became recognized simply as the Myrna Loy Statue and stood as an identifiable symbol on the campus during its existence. Alumni recall how the statue was a familiar piece in front of the school, was the target of Gondolier sports opponents and even made an appearance in the film Grease.
“I think it was a visual symbol of the school and it set it apart from other schools,” Anderson said of the original statue.
Ferre agreed, saying, “I truly believe that everybody who went to Venice High from the 1920s to the 80s were very much aware that that statue meant Venice High School.”
When Venice High Alumni Association members initiated the effort to return the Loy figure they commissioned artist Ernest Shelton, who has created the likeness of other icons such as baseball legend Ty Cobb, for the recreation. Shelton studied pictures of the former piece along with Loy films to recapture the statue as a replica made of bronze with a protective coating.
Ferre said the project received a funding boost in 2007 when 1961 graduate Peter Schwab offered to provide a major donation. Schwab, chairman of Wells Fargo Capital Finance, said he has been blessed in his career and wanted to give back to the community by helping return something that has belonged to the school for most of its history.
“I did it because I think that statue belongs there,” Schwab said of his donation. “It’s a work of art, but it’s also something that the students felt was the personality of the school.
“That statue was something special in front of the school, and it had a story.”
Former alumni association president Paul Belli noted that over 300 people made contributions toward the project. Belli said the finished result was better than he could have imagined.
“The level of detail that the sculptor did is absolutely amazing. She’s extremely graceful,” said Belli, a 1969 graduate.
“I think that across the board, classes are just thrilled and excited to have Myrna back in her rightful place.”
Ferre also believes the completed piece turned out better than expected. While many of the current students may not have heard of Loy or been aware of the statue’s existence prior to the replica’s placement, the new standing likeness of the former student and actress can help build “Gondolier pride,” Ferre said.
Wallace, high school principal, was reminded of the message of “inspiration” that the original statue was designed to convey and is hopeful that the new Myrna Loy can inspire students to succeed.
As Venice High prepares for its centennial next year, Anderson said the effort to restore the longtime school fixture shows what a community can do when it sets its mind to a cause.
“This will provide another symbol of the excellence of the school,” Anderson said.