Southfield — Across Metro Detroit there are statues of religious and civic pioneers, military heroes and politicians.
But then there is only one of the “Boy and the Bear.” Thursday night, it was unveiled at a fundraiser with nearly 200 people at the Southfield Public Library.
Following speeches and introductions, a chant of “Free the Bear” went up as a large canvas cover near the enclosed entry wall of the library was yanked off the beloved statue.
It was bought with other artwork by the city for $500,000 after the closing of the Northland Mall, its former home.
“This has been a long journey,” said Mayor Kenson Siver, who acknowledged the efforts of elected officials and others in Southfield to keep the statue.
“When Northland hit the skids, the receiver felt he had to raise some cash and one way to do that was to sell off the art collection,” said Siver. “It was being arranged in April (2015) and when I heard about it, I knew we couldn’t let it happen.
“If it had been sold, it would have been gone forever,” he said. “For some people, the statue and the mall is recalled as the place where they got their first job, their first suit, their first prom dress.”
Siver turned to other officials and a loan was arranged to satisfy the receiver, and delinquent taxes on the mall were forgiven. Officials, including Siver and the Arts Commission, have been working to pay back the loan.
“We have raised $475,000 towards our $600,000 goal and we aren’t going to stop until we reach it,” Siver said.
Adults have nostalgic memories of not only seeing the statue when they visited the sprawling 144-acre Northland but making the statue a destination.
“The mall was huge; it was a meeting place for many people ‘meet you by the bear’,” said Dr. Les Goldstein.
Council president Myron Frasier didn’t know anything about the statue when he moved to Southfield in 1980. “I made a point of parking as close as I could to it so I could find my car,” Frasier said.
Michigan sculptor Marshall Fredericks was commissioned to create the statue, which became part of the mall in 1954. It was carved from limestone and the boy, who rides on the bear’s back, was bronze cast and gold-plated.