Capitol Alert

It took nine years, but California’s ‘El Soldado’ memorial finally got fixed

The refurbished El Soldado memorial includes a new plaza and expanded statute base with the names of Medal of Honor recipients.
The refurbished El Soldado memorial includes a new plaza and expanded statute base with the names of Medal of Honor recipients.

A nine-year odyssey to refurbish the aging California Mexican American Veterans Memorial is finally complete.

“El Soldado,” as it’s also known, stands at attention on 10th Street, facing the Capitol. Originally constructed in 1951, the memorial was financed by Sacramento-area wives and mothers who raised money through church raffles and selling homemade tamales to commemorate their husbands and sons who fought in World War II.

Over the years, however, the statue deteriorated: The barrel of El Soldado’s gun broke, the strap of his helmet went missing and he cracked and molded.

So in 2008, a committee formed to rehabilitate and upgrade the memorial. When it is rededicated, 10 a.m. today at the corner of 10th Street and Capitol Mall, it will also include a new plaza and an expanded base listing more than 60 Mexican-Americans from California who have received the Medal of Honor, dating back to the Civil War.

Dan Contreras, chair of the memorial committee, said the statute stands not just for veterans, but for their families who also sacrificed. Its rededication comes amid National Hispanic Heritage Month.

“We took a dilapidated, weathered, just really disgraceful piece of history and have improved it,” he said. “This is something that’s a legacy.”

The project design was modified slightly to accommodate disability access standards and drought regulations. But Contreras said the biggest reason it took so long was fundraising, which started slowly when the committee launched its efforts in the middle of the economic recession and then never seemed to pick up.

The committee ultimately raised about $450,000, largely from institutional donors like Wells Fargo, though Contreras said the project would not have been possible without significantly more in-kind contributions from management company Vanir Construction Management, Inc. and others.

“I couldn’t understand why people were not embracing the project,” he said. “I’ve been involved in an $84 million memorial project, and that was a lot easier than this.”

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Editor’s Note: This post was updated at 10:40 a.m. Oct. 11, 2017 to correct the name of Vanir Construction Management, Inc.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff