A bronze replica will replace the deteriorated concrete statue removed in 2000
BY CHRISTINA HANFORD
Thanks to extensive fundraising efforts by the Venice High School Alumni Association and an over $75,000 donation from Venice High alumni Peter Schwab, a new Myrna Loy Statue is set to come back to the high school early next year.
The statue, modeled after the famous actress, which stood on the front lawn of Venice High for decades, was removed in 2000 because of irreparable decay and damage.
But soon, an exact replica of the Myrna Loy Statue will once again sit on Venice High’s campus.
“It’s extremely exciting,” said Paul Belli, a 1969 graduate of Venice High and the alumni association president. “People know how important that statue is for both Venice High and the area. It’s part of the school and needs to be replaced. We can’t wait.”
Sculptor Ernest Sheldon is currently completing a maquette — or miniature version — of the statue, which allows him to fine-tune details of the project before he creates the seven-foot piece, which will be made out of bronze.
“The maquette is taking shape,” notes Belli. “It looks like Myrna.”
Before its removal in 2000, the Myrna Loy Statue — made of cement with a marble dust coating — had suffered from vandalism and major decay.
“It rotted from the inside out,” said project coordinator Laura Ferre, a 1976 graduate of Venice High.
In 2000, several art historians performed a condition assessment of the structure.
“They came and evaluated the statue and determined that there was definitely no way to repair or restore the statue and have it last,” said Ferre. “It would continue to fall apart because of the structural damage and the original material it was made out of, concrete and a marble dust coating.”
Four months later, the statue was removed. It remains in a secure location on campus, Ferre said.
Known as a landmark by locals, the sculpture, first installed in 1920, was not always known as the Myrna Loy Statue.
Created by Harry Winebrenner, a sculptor and art teacher at Venice High, the sculpture featured three statues — a main figure representing “inspiration,” surrounded by two kneeling figures representing “manual labor” and “fine arts,” although some references describe them as “beauty,” “spirit” and “athleticism.”
In 1920, the figure representing “inspiration” — a tall female standing erect — was installed in the front lawn of Venice High School.
And in 1921, a male representing “manual labor” and a female dancer representing “fine arts” were also installed.
But Winebrenner was unsatisfied with “inspiration.”
“He kept looking at the main figure and just wasn’t happy with her, so he designed a brand new statue,” Ferre said.
Winebrenner persuaded a shy, young female student at Venice High by the name of Myrna Williams to pose as his model for the figure. And in 1923, the new statue was installed.
The main figure “inspiration” now displayed a much more elegant pose and Winebrenner was pleased.
Coincidentally, several years later, “inspiration” model Myrna Willams — who changed her name to Myrna Loy — became a well-known actress, starring in films, including The Thin Man series.
Loy went on to appear in over 115 movies and many began to recognize that she was indeed the “inspiration” figure in the sculpture at Venice High.
Soon, the piece became known as the Myrna Loy Statue.
“Over the decades, the name stuck,” Ferre said.
But through the years, the statue also became damaged.
In 1979, it was refurbished by Venice High teacher William Van Orden with a group of students.
But it wasn’t known how bad the internal damage to the statue was, and the piece “just kept falling apart,” Ferre said. “By the ’90s, she was looking pretty sad again.”
In 2000, the statue was finally removed.
For about five years, the Venice High School Alumni Association met monthly to gather facts and research about how to bring a replica Myrna Loy Statue back to Venice High.
In 2006, Ferre and the alumni association began fundraising efforts to bring the piece of art and history back to Venice.
In October 2007, Ferre got a phone call from Schwab, a 1961 graduate of Venice High, who was very interested in being a major donor to help get the project under way.
“I thought it was important to do,” says Schwab, who remembers the statue well from his high school days. “That statue was the mark of the school. It was tradition. It was there for many years and now it’s gone. I drive by that school all the time and it’s not the same school without the statue.”
Schwab wanted to see the sculpture back, so he contributed $46,000 to the project and made a commitment to match dollar for dollar any other donation to the project.
“I’ve been very blessed in business the last number of years and I’m a strong believer that you’ve got to give back,” he said. “I’ve always done that. I think that’s really important.”
The alumni association and many in the Venice community are thankful to Schwab for getting the project off the ground.
“With the significant commitment from Peter Schwab, he’s really gotten this project from the dream stage to it’s really going to happen — and that’s what’s so exciting,” said Belli.
Added Ferre, “Without his donation, we would not be where we are today. That phone call changed the path that we were on.”
So far, the alumni association has raised about $90,000, Ferre said.
The project is expected to cost about $150,000 total, so fundraising efforts continue, but the project is well under way.
“We can’t wait for her [the statue] to be back,” says Belli.
“Most of the Venice community has wanted the statue back for many years,” she says. “It’s a landmark. It’s important that the statue — as beautiful as she was and as beautiful as she can be — be back.”