Castleman statue remains — for now — after vote on monument’s significance

Jan 24, 2019 at 2:03 pm
The John B. Castleman statue in Cherokee Triangle. (photo by Nik Vechery)
The John B. Castleman statue in Cherokee Triangle. (photo by Nik Vechery)

The John B. Castleman statue will stay in its prominent Cherokee Triangle location after a vote Wednesday from a historic preservation committee, but the city may appeal the decision. 

The Cherokee Triangle Architectural Review Committee, made up of city residents, voted 3-3 on the city’s request that the statue be removed. With the tie, the request failed. 

“We are disappointed with the decision, and we are reviewing our next steps over the next couple of days,” said Jean Porter, communications officer for Mayor Greg Fischer. 

The city can appeal the Cherokee Triangle committee’s decision to the Historic Landmarks and Preservation Districts Commission. 

In August, Mayor Greg Fischer called for the removal of the statue because “Louisville must not maintain statues that serve as validating symbols for racist or bigoted ideology.”

Castleman served in the Confederate and U.S. armies and helped to establish Louisville’s Cherokee Park. Calls to remove it came after the deadly rioting in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

At Wednesday’s meeting, Cynthia Elmore, a historic preservation officer for the city, argued that, because the Castleman statue was not original to the roundabout, it wouldn’t harm the character of the streetscape to remove it, in accordance with Cherokee Triangle’s design guidelines. It would also not impact the roundabout’s function for traffic, she said. 

The historic district’s guidelines call for the retention of historic gateways, circulation patterns and artwork when they’re character defining features of the neighborhood. 

Committee Chair Michael Gross voted against removing the statue, citing the same guidelines  as he questioned the integrity of the city’s argument. 

“Throughout the guidelines, the Castleman statue is, in essence, the neighborhood,” he said. “I mean, it’s the Cherokee Triangle. It’s on the emblem on our buildings, the historical markers. It’s on the cover of the book.”

The Castleman statue, while featured in a “did you know,” informational box in the guidelines, is not explicitly mentioned as a contributing element to the district. 

If the statue is removed, the city had offered to cover the roundabout with plants and to designate the site as an opportunity for future public art installations.

Most of the audience comments regarding the statue focused on its value as a piece of art and history. Thirteen people at Wednesday’s meeting, which included a few members of the antigovernment group the Three Percenters, spoke against or with complicated feelings about removing the statue. One person, an Indiana resident, spoke in favor its removal. 

“I speak for the majority of the silent in our community in the Cherokee Triangle that we like that statue,” said Lynn Horrar. “It’s a piece of artwork. That’s how we view it. It represents our Triangle.” 

Other opponents said they feared that removing the statue would allow the censoring of history. 

Nancy Gall-Clayton, the one vocal supporter of removal at the meeting, asked the committee to consider how people of color might feel about the statue. 

“What kind of community is this if we all want a statue to remain that no person of color wants to look at in its current location?” she asked. 

No black people were present at the meeting, except for committee member Tamika Jackson, who voted for removal, reassuring residents that “history cannot be erased.”