The Mysterious Case of the Missing Statue: Why the Park Building Has an Empty Pedestal

Some say it’s missing, but it was never actually there to begin with.

No, this isn’t a riddle.

It describes the façade of the John R. Park Building, located at the top of Presidents Circle. On the left alcove sits a life-size bronze statue of John R. Park, an early chancellor of the U, and on the right sits an empty pedestal.

Despite popular myths — the most prominent of which alleges that a sculpture of Brigham Young once stood there but was stolen by a group of rowdy BYU students — no statue has ever occupied the vacant space just outside the front doors. The mystery comes down to money.

When the idea for the building was first mentioned in 1907, university administrators appealed to the Utah Legislature for funds to construct the “imposing and beautiful structure,” according to a report sent to the state. The bill passed four years later, allocating $300,000, and construction began in 1912.

By March 1914, crews completed the Administration Building, as it was called at the time, but spent more on the marble, granite and limestone materials than anticipated. The U could not, then, afford to adorn the outside with statues.

“Money had a lot to do with a lot of things,” said Clint Bailey with university archives and records management at the U.

The inside housed the U’s library, bookstore and classrooms, while both pedestals remained bare.

Five years later, the U’s Alumni Association decided to rename the structure after John R. Park, who served as the U’s first president from 1869 to 1892. In dedicating the building to the late academic, the U commissioned both a bronze statue and a plaster bust of Park. According to a 1921 article in The Utah Chronicle, Mahonri Young, who is said to be a U alumnus and a grandson of Brigham Young, sculpted both pieces.

But donations for the $6,000 project came in slowly. By May 1919, the U had received just one-third of what it needed. John D. Spencer, chairman of the monument committee, said at the time: “It is of vital importance that subscriptions to the monument fund be sent in without delay in order that this great memorial tribute might be paid to Dr. Park by his former students.”

Sufficient funds were collected over the course of the next three years, and the statue was unveiled in June 1922 — but it was placed inside the building because the U didn’t have enough money to install it on one of the outdoor pedestals. It wasn’t placed in the outside left alcove until September 1941, according to an archived Chronicle article.

As time went on, money was still hard to come by. Reports from 1949 said the university was as “poor then, as now” and couldn’t find the funds for a second statue to adorn the right side of the building. In 1951, The Chronicle wrote that the spot “has long been vacant awaiting a worthy occupant. The bronzed statue of John R. Park has, in the lonely hours of the night, often cast yearning glances toward that empty block of stone.”

There has never been, however, neither then nor now, anything in the works to fill the space, said Matt Fetzer, with the U’s facilities management. Fetzer, whose great-grandfather was one of the three architects to design the Park Building (Telle Cannon, John Fetzer and Ramm Hansen), said he’s never heard anything through family lore about why the spot has sat empty for the past 101 years.

The building, which now houses administration offices, received substantial renovations in 2009 to improve seismic stability. The $8 million project also included a new terra cotta foundation for Park’s statue, but made no concrete plans for the empty pedestal on the right — seemingly a riddle with no answer.

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