Where’s the best place in Baltimore to put a statue honoring Colts great Lenny Moore, who will turn 86 on Nov. 25? The sports complex at Camden Yards? The former site of Memorial Stadium, where he played?
Does the city want one at all?
Those were the questions put before Baltimore’s Public Art Commission, which has the authority to accept gifts of public statuary intended for city-owned land, at a meeting today.
The idea of erecting a statue of Moore has been around for years, but a specific site has never been determined. Site selection efforts stalled after the death in 2015 of Levi Watkins, a medical doctor who headed the planning committee.
On Friday, a group called the Lenny Moore Statue Committee came before the Public Art Commission to say it was prepared to move quickly and wanted to pin down a site to tell prospective donors for fundraising purposes.
They said they’re seeking to raise $500,000 for the project and are aiming to have the statue in place by Nov. 25, 2020, the day Moore turns 87.
After hearing a presentation and seeing images of the proposed statue, the commission voted unanimously to accept the gift on behalf of the city and to authorize a more detailed study of four possible city-owned sites where it could be located.
“This is real big for us,” said civil rights advocate and civic leader Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, a leader of the citizens group that met with the commission. “We’re very excited about it.”
Other group members who met with the commission included former City Councilman Carl Stokes and writer and communications specialist Tony White. Also attending the meeting was Maryland sculptor Fred Kail, who created statues of Johnny Unitas and Ray Lewis outside M&T Bank Stadium and will sculpt the statue of Moore.
The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation has agreed to serve as the fiduciary agent to accept donations for the statue, Stokes and Cheatham said.
Born in 1933 in Reading, Pennsylvania, Moore played college football for Penn State and was selected by the Baltimore Colts in the first round of the 1956 NFL draft as the ninth pick. For the Colts, playing in the offense run by quarterback Johnny Unitas, he was both a runner and a receiver, lining up in the backfield as a halfback and split wide as a flanker.
Moore played for the Colts his entire career, retiring from professional football after the 1967 season. In 12 seasons and 143 games, he scored 113 touchdowns, accumulated 12,451 net yards, and was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times. He is the only player in NFL history to have at least 40 receiving touchdowns and 40 rushing touchdowns. He was named the NFL Rookie of the Year and 1956 and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1975.
Stokes told the commission that the statue has already been designed and will be a gift to the city of Baltimore from the citizens group he represents. He said the group’s members believe Moore deserves a statue for his achievements as a Colt and for the work he did afterwards.
“This is the 100th year of the NFL, the 100th season of the National Football League,” Stokes said. “Lenny Moore is the only player in 100 years to have 40 receiving touchdowns and 40 rushing touchdowns. That may not sound so significant, but he was the first dual threat. We know about Lamar Jackson. [Back then] you either played halfback and ran the ball from the offense or you were a receiver and you caught the ball. Lenny did both. He was the first to do both. And he did it better than anybody, then or now.”
He also was on the cusp of the civil rights advances that finally saw black athletes playing for professional sports teams, and sometimes when traveling he had to eat at a different restaurant from the rest of the team or stay in a different hotel, Stokes said.
After retiring from the Colts, Stokes said, Moore became dedicated to helping troubled youngsters by working with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. As a past president of the Ed Block Courage Awards, he led efforts to support abused children in all of the NFL cities. After losing a son to a chronic disease, scleroderma, he established a foundation in his son’s name to fight it.
“Beyond his football exploits, we are celebrating him because he was such a great Baltimore citizen,” Stokes said. “When he came to Baltimore he never left. He put in 26 years at the Department of Juvenile Services, where his job was working with boys and girls. But the bigger piece of this is that, evenings and weekends, Lenny worked with boys and girls and their families without compensation… Football is a small part of his history and his dedication to the city of Baltimore.”
Ryan Patterson, the city’s public art coordinator, outlined four city-owned sites that have been suggested for further study. He said the city needs to make sure the sites aren’t encumbered by agreements and are capable of supporting the weight of a statue and base.
The sites are: a grassy knoll next to historic Camden Station and near the Convention Center light rail stop, on the periphery of the Camden Yards sports complex; Solo Gibbs Park in Sharp-Leadenhall; B&O Park near the B&O Railroad Museum in West Baltimore, and a city-owned parcel near Warner and Ostend streets and just south of M&T Bank Stadium.
The commissioners were told that the Baltimore Ravens did not want a statue of Moore, a former Colt, on Ravens property, even though there is the statues of Unitas and Lewis. Members of the statue committee said Ravens executives told them the team is supportive of the effort to honor Moore but say every inch of their property is spoken for, and they don’t have room to add a statue of him.
Asked for the Ravens’ position, director of public relations Patrick Gleason sent an email reply: “We have great respect and love for Lenny, who visits us at the Under Armour Performance Center at least once per week. At this time, we do not want to discuss publicly the statue.”
The commissioners were also told that the Orioles aren’t interested in having a Lenny Moore statue near Oriole Park. Kail said there was a suggestion at one point to have a row of statues of sports legends between the football stadium and the baseball stadium, but the Orioles nixed the idea.
Given those limitations, the statue group members said, they turned to the city to learn what city-owned land was available. One of the four options, the site south of M&T Bank Stadium, is about the only viable city-owned parcel that is in a relatively high traffic area and has the football stadium as a backdrop.
Commissioner Alma Roberts suggested a city-owned site where Memorial Stadium used to be, since that’s where Moore played. She noted that the land is now the location of Stadium Place, a mostly residential complex that includes housing for seniors who likely would have remembered Moore’s heroics as a Colt.
Stokes and others said the group didn’t want to have Moore’s statue at Stadium Place. They said the group wants the statue to be a location where it can be seen by as many people as possible, and Stadium Place doesn’t get as much vehicular or foot traffic as sites closer to downtown.
“The idea is to pay the proper respect to this man that we are talking about,” White said. “We’re trying to identify places where there is heavy foot traffic…so that you can see him and in the process it will spark conversation.”
In light of the vote, the public art commission staff will move ahead with more detailed analysis of the four sites, with the aim of identifying the best one.
Kail, 82, said he has already created a scale model of the statue, working from photos to arrive at a figure in a stance that he believes best captures Lenny Moore in action. He said the bronze statue will be nine feet tall and will be set on a five-foot-high granite base with Moore’s name and an inscription in gold letters. He said he wanted to depict Moore at the “apex” of his career, “from the ’58-’59 years,” when the Colts won back-to-back NFL Championships. Moore has seen the design and approves of it, he said.
The sculpture committee has not yet raised any money for the statue. Cheatham said the group plans to have its first fundraising meeting on Moore’s birthday, Nov. 25, and was waiting to see what action the Public Art Commission would take.
Cheatham said he has no worries that the group can raise the funds it needs once people know there’s a definite site for the statue.
Given the amount of respect and admiration for Lenny Moore, “we don’t think there’s going to be any problem at all” raising money, he said. If anything, “we may raise too much money.”
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