In the 1984 movie “Sixteen Candles,” Molly Ringwald’s character was deeply saddened and incredulous when her entire family forgot her birthday. That may be how the waving Chief Solano statue feels about the more than 400,000 citizens of a county that was named after the man the statue represents.
The 12-foot bronze statue celebrates a milestone birthday Tuesday, 80 years, and, as far as I can tell, no one has made a peep about it.
Now, before you say how silly it is to celebrate the birthday of a statue, let me remind you that the building the chief has been standing in front of since 1938, the old County Library (or County Events Center if you must), recently celebrated its 100th birthday with much hoopla. I also understand that the renovated county courthouse across the street will celebrate its centennial in the fall.
Neither of those buildings is as engaging as the Chief Solano statue is from the front, with his welcoming wave, or as unmistakable from behind, with his often chuckle-inducing bare buttocks.
It is truly a shame there is no birthday celebration for the waving Chief Solano statue because next to the downtown sign over Texas Street and maybe Gary “Mr. Fairfield” Falati, he is arguably the most well-known icon associated with Solano County’s seat.
The statue’s likeness is front and center on the Solano County seal, a painted version graces the mural on the side of the Solano Theatre/Fairfield Cinema I/Pepperbelly’s/vacant, burned-out building downtown, there is a Chief Solano Boy Scout division and also a Chief Solano Kennel Club.
In front of the John F. Kennedy library in Vallejo, there is another smaller sculpture of Chief Solano that was erected by the Vallejo Kiwanis Club. It features a bust of the chief, encased in a rectangular concrete slab that calls to mind Han Solo frozen in carbonite in “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Heck, the statue has now been around longer than the man who it is supposed to represent. The birthday of the actual Chief Solano (or Sina or Sem Yeto) is guestimated to be somewhere between 1798 and 1800 and he died in 1850. The waving Chief Solano statue’s birth date is not in question. Well, unless the question is, “How exactly is a statue born?”
In 1933, Bay Area artist William Gordon Huff won a statewide competition to construct the statue. Since there are no known photos of Chief Solano (despite what images found on Google claim), the 12-foot-tall bronze sculpture was, Huff said, “a figment of my own imagination.” A bas-relief sculpture by Gen. Mariano Vallejo’s son Platon is the only first-hand likeness of the chief and looks way more like late improvisational comedian Jonathan Winters than Huff’s finished product.
On Sunday, June 3, 1934, the dedication of the Chief Solano monument, as it was called then, took place at its original erection site on a hill near where the CHP truck scales are now. Repeated vandalism was the cause of it being moved to its present site four years later.
There is a cool silent black-and-white video of the ceremony available online at the Solano History Exploration Center’s website. You can also peruse the original dedication program on the Vacaville Heritage Council website.
So that is how the June 3, 1934, date as the statue’s birthday was reached. Also, The Waving Chief Solano Statue Facebook page says it is correct (Full disclosure: I run that page).
To save the statue from the aforementioned “Sixteen Candles” situation, I solicited birthday wishes from a few locals:
Sharon Kastens Lopez: Happy birthday! May you stand tall and proud another 80 years!
Ann Miller: Happy birthday, Chief! You look great for your age. Who’s your trainer?
JoAnn Hinkson Beebe: Happy birthday! Thank you for standing guard over our county all these years. Your welcoming wave has become a mainstay of this community.
Carl Lamera: Really? You’re soliciting b-day wishes for a hunk of inanimate bronze (except for when it’s windy) that looks nothing like the image of the person it’s supposed to honor?
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.