City of Presidents

October 1, 2001
Filed under Travel

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Located in the heart of the Black Hills, Rapid City has long been associated with the great
stone faces of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Dedicated in 1927, commencing 14 years of
work (although only 6-1/2 years were spent on actual carving), the faces of Presidents
George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt have long
symbolized the birth and growth of a new nation, each representing a different stage of our
country’s development. Now a 10-year plan to put sculptures of all the American presidents
on the street corners in downtown Rapid City promises to bring the crowds of visitors from
the mountains to Main Street. Funded entirely by private donations, each of the 40 bronze
sculptures are to be erected at the rate of four a year for 10 years. In the 11th year,
statues of the nonseated presidents will be erected. Each presidential sculpture is the
actual height of that man and is dressed appropriately for the period in which he lived –
Ronald Reagan in Western attire, John Adams dressed in a waistcoat and vest. “The older
presidents have such interesting costumes,” says Dallerie Davis, co-founder of the City of
Presidents Foundation and local art promoter. Four South Dakota sculptors were commissioned
to create the artwork. Artist John Lopez didn’t have to think much about which former
leader he wanted to create. Through his mother’s side of the family, he is related to John
Adams. Lopez will also sculpt Adams’ son, President John Quincy Adams. Lee Leuning,
assisted by Sherri Treeby, took on the responsibility of sculpting the nation’s first
president. Leuning is a South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks conservation officer. James
Michael Maher says of his creation of Ronald Reagan, “I think he was one of our greatest
presidents.” Sturgis native Edward Hlavka thinks former President George Bush exemplified
public service. Four statues are already in place: George Washington, John Adams, Ronald
Reagan and George Bush. Working from the first presidents and the last presidents in
office, the project, when completed, will be the third-largest art project in the state,
behind Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. This method of unveiling was chosen to
eliminate any favoritism or political agenda, and also to create a mix of 20th-century
business attire and 18th-century period clothing. The idea for the City of Presidents
originated several years ago by local businessman Don Perdue. He and Dallerie Davis formed
the City of Presidents Foundation to coordinate and promote the idea. To launch the
project, he and several other individuals and businesses in the Rapid City community
purchased each of the first four statues at the cost of $50,000 apiece, then donated them
to the city. Expected cost for future statues will be about the same price. The city will
provide the foundations for the monuments and the foundation board has established a fund
for upkeep and maintenance. They’re quite a sight — nestled on four corners in front of
the shady storefronts of downtown Rapid City, where patriotism and democracy have been part
of the fabric of the community for many years. Just as the four presidents whose faces are
carved in stone were chosen to represent the birth, growth, preservation and development of
the country, so will the pattern continue. Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau, P.O.
Box 747, Rapid City, South Dakota 57709; (800) 487-3223; www.rapidcitycvb.com

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