Pioneer and Indigenous Man Meet.
Pegleg Smith vs. Big Bear.

Old Trapper's Lodge Statues

Field review by the editors.

Woodland Hills, California

They stand, silent and spooky: Goggle-eyed sculptures of California pioneers and unhappy Native Americans, in a rarely-visited corner of a college campus just down the street from the Encino Mall. Who made them? And what are they doing here?

Pioneer Family Stands Bravely.
The Trapper's Family stands bravely.

The statues were built by John Ehn. Evidently proud of his pioneer ancestry, he called himself "The Old Trapper" and spent the last thirty years of his life crafting his sculptures, using his family and himself as models. He displayed the finished statues at his motel near Burbank Airport, which he named The Old Trapper's Lodge.

Ehn was 84 when he died in 1981. His creations were declared a California state cultural landmark four years later. Culture, however, rarely stops progress in Southern California. Bulldozers arrived to level The Old Trapper's Lodge in the late 1980s. The statues were imperiled. And here's where the story gets murky.

An unknown fan of The Old Trapper made a phone call to nearby Pierce College. Somehow, he or she persuaded a decision-maker at the school to "adopt" the statues. Before anyone else knew what had happened, the Trapper's Lodge statues had a new home in Cleveland Park -- an out-of-the-way patch of land behind the Animal Sciences Building. What was said to seal the deal, and what was the fallout for the decision-maker, no one will say.

Mesmerizing stare.

Remembering Ironfoot Eva.
Remembering Ironfoot Eva.

An even greater mystery surrounds the continued upkeep of the Old Trapper's creations. According to a Pierce official, "Every few years we get a letter saying that someone's coming down to repaint the statues." The folks at Pierce never ask who. "Last time the statues got painted, the trail around the Park needed work as well." The college couldn't afford it -- so the mysterious caretakers did it themselves. "Did a good job, too."

The brightly-colored figures are arranged near a large barbeque grill. A Mormon does battle with one Indian, while another Indian carries away a scantily clad woman in a scene titled "Kidnap." Bizarre faces poke up from the ground. A prospector and two Gold Rush gals relax on a rough wooden bench.

John Ehn would be pleased that his statues have been kept so well, though he'd be frustrated that few people appreciate their maintenance. For years the statues were mostly ignored -- but now the general consensus among Pierce students and officials is that the Old Trapper's Lodge sculptures are racist and have to go. Where, however, is a conundrum, because they are, remember, an official California cultural landmark, and have to be safely transported somewhere else. They can't just be bulldozed any more.

Old Trapper's Lodge Statues

Pierce College

Address:
7100 El Rancho Drive, Woodland Hills, CA
Directions:
West edge of Pierce College campus, just east of the stables, in a stand of trees just west of the parking lot on the north side of El Rancho Drive.
Hours:
Campus holidays - closed. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
818-719-6401
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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