Official: Special designations won’t block Lee statue removal
Though the Robert E. Lee statue is listed on national and state historic registers, such designations shouldn’t block its removal from Richmond’s Monument Avenue, a state official said.
Amid the past week’s unrest over systemic racism, Gov. Ralph Northam confirmed Thursday that his administration will make plans to remove the statue in coming weeks. It sits on a circle of stateowned land along the historic boulevard through the city’s Fan District.
The news raised questions about whether the monument’s designation on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register may stand in the way of its removal. Monument Avenue itself is further designated as a National Historic Landmark district.
But Julie Langan, director and state historic preservation officer of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, said the listings have no bearing on the statue’s potential removal.
“All of those designations are honorific, and none of them bring with them any protection or requirements of a property,” Langan said.
The National Park Service, which administers the federal register, referred questions about the monument’s status to Langan.
The Lee statue, which was unveiled in 1890 during the Jim Crow era, was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register in
2006 and the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. The designations recognized the “outstanding artistic quality” of French sculptor Marius Jean Antonin Mercié’s design.
According to the Northam administration, the statue will be moved to a warehouse for storage, and public input will be gathered to decide its ultimate fate. That decision, Langan said, might jeopardize the monument’s place on the national and state registers.
She added that the removal of four other Confederate statues on Monument Avenue — which Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney will soon propose to the City Council — could prompt the National Park Service to re-evaluate Monument Avenue as a National Historic Landmark.
The Lee monument is considered a “contributing resource” to the Monument Avenue district, and the thoroughfare’s National Historic Landmark status is “the ultimate” designation a property can obtain, Langan said. To earn the status, the property must be recognized by the U.S. secretary of the interior as having national significance — that is, “exceptional value in representing or illustrating an important theme in the history of the nation,” according to the National Park Service.
By contrast, properties on the National Register of Historic Places tend to bear significance primarily within their states or localities. Of about 95,000 entries on the register, fewer than 3,000 are further distinguished as National Historic Landmarks.
According to Langan, even if the Lee monument were itself designated as a National Historic Landmark, it still could be taken down.