Lady Liberty is on the move again in San Marcos.
Thats the word from Arie De Jong, the man who brought the large replica Statue of Liberty to the 800 block of E. Mission Road where proudly she has waved her torch since 1995.
This summer will mark the fifth time the sometimes controversial, but undeniably remarkable local landmark has hit the road. Not to worry, its not going far. De Jong, or rather a 180-ton crane, will move the statue just a few feet down the road to a front driveway when his Diamond Environmental Services yard is refurbished.
The statue started life as an archway decoration fronting Leucadias Liberty Motel during World War Two. A motel remodel consigned the statue to “Trader Jim” Sullivans junk store at the corner of Mission Avenue and El Camino Real in Oceanside.
Sullivan closed his business with a final auction for the road. There, a bidding war broke out between De Jong and Rube Nelson, a well-known Escondido market owner. A top price of $900 proved to rich for De Jong who let Lady Liberty slide.
“Ten, 15 years later Rube sold his property to a developer, closed down his store and sold everything he had except for the statue and a washing machine,”
De Jong said this week from his Lake Wohlford ranch.
“I said, Ill give you your money back, $900, for the statue and also bought the washer for $100.”
Thus, it went Leucadia, Oceanside, Escondido, and now San Marcos for the traveling symbol of American freedom whose 305 foot big sister was itself a controversial gift from France before being installed in New York Harbor in 1886.
“The statue sat in the back of my maintenance shop for many before I came up with an idea for a recycling business,” De Jong said. “I decided to call it Liberty Recycling, fixed up the statue and put it up there.”
Thats when the fun began. San Marcos officials came around the recycling yard and decided the statue was in the Mission Road right-of-way. De Jong did his own measuring and proved the statue was one inch inside his property.
Then, officials declared the statue a sign that was in violation of city ordinance. “I said when is a statue a sign?” De Jong said. “Its a monument.”
City officials insisted that whatever it was it also was a public hazard capable of falling and injuring people. De Jong hung a 5-ton forklift on the statue and proved it could stand the test of weight.
The dispute dominated at least seven city council meetings and even made the local evening news before rather surprisingly petering out, maybe of its own weight. Officials called it a day and stopped their anti-statue activities..
De Jong wasnt through. He later installed a gate with smaller statues of liberty at a nearby property he owned. He moved the large statue to a pedestal 40 feet across the Diamond Environmental entrance way while the business was being renovated..
“I was 10 years old and we immigrated from Holland,”
De Jong said. “When we saw that Statue of Liberty, we knew we had come all the way, we were in America.”
The statue isnt so well-known these days, even across the street at newly constructed Mission Hills High School where administrators and students said they didnt have a clue.
But, De Jong has high hopes for the future, especially after the move to a final resting place fronting a newly renovated Diamond Environmental Services this summer.
“Now well have a statue of L:iberty and flagpole for all the kids at Mission Hills to see and salute,” De Jong said.
By: Dan Weisman