John B. Castleman statue | Courtesy WLKY

A two-hour meeting of the Cherokee Triangle Architectural Review Committee Wednesday evening ended in a tie vote, which means the statue depicting the Confederate soldier John Breckinridge Castleman will stay in its Cherokee Triangle home.

Because the Castleman statue is located in the Cherokee Triangle Preservation District, the mayor’s office must receive a certificate of appropriateness from the review committee to move the statue. The city petitioned the committee to remove the statue because of the controversial nature of Castleman’s life.

The six committee members voted three for and three against. The committee’s bylaws say that a tie vote means the application is denied, but the city could still appeal the motion to the Landmarks Commission.

Audience members in attendance cheered the vote to deny the city’s request to remove the Castleman Statue Wednesday night. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

The statue has been defaced several times as some have protested its display. Castleman has been praised for contributions to Louisville but also has drawn derision for fighting in the Confederate Army.

About 50 people attended the meeting, with only one speaking in favor of the removal, Nancy Gall-Clayton, citing its racist undertones. “What kind of community is this if we allow a statue that no person of color would want to look at in its current location? I support removal.”

About 10 people spoke to the committee. Two of them spoke as not for or against, citing the importance of public art and historical significance.

But those who appealed to the committee to deny the city’s application cited the statue’s significance to the neighborhood, Castleman’s generosity to the city in donating his own land to the city’s parks and his progressive nature, despite having fought for the Confederacy early in his life.

After the meeting, Bryan Svoboda, who identified himself to the committee as someone who does public relations for the Three Percenter militia group and was wearing one of their jackets, said he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting.

“I’m happy, but I wish we’d stand our ground a little bit more in the area,” he said. “Cherokee Triangle is a beautiful, great area, and anybody who knows that area, there’s not Rebel flags flying, and there’s never been any form of rally at that statue, it’s a warm, welcoming area.”

The John Breckinridge Castleman statue in Cherokee Triangle the morning after it was vandalized with paint in last year | Photo by Joe Sonka

“Quit changing everything,” he continued. “There’s groups all over the world well-known for taking down statues, those are called Nazis or ISIS. You know you can’t change or erase history, but you’ve got to teach people. The Civil War was not a great thing, but great things came out of it. The same with the Revolutionary War. It took things like that to happen to change to a positive. We can’t just keep erasing our history, we’ve got to stand our ground.”

A committee member, Monica Orr, voted in favor of taking down the statue, but said her reasoning was to protect it.

“Could he be removed for repair? Because God knows he’s got so much paint on him right now. We don’t want to see it continually vandalized.”

From left are Public Art Administrator Sarah Lindgren, Historic Preservation Officer Cynthia Elmore and Bryan Svoboda | Photo by Lisa Hornung

Louisville’s Public Art Administrator Sarah Lindgren said the city has been in talks with Cave Hill Cemetery to possibly move the statue there but there is no plan for moving the statue in place.

A committee member, Michael Gross, said he voted no because he felt the city didn’t make its case well enough to warrant removal, but he said: “I am walking a very thin line between both sides. It’s a tough decision. I’m open to listening to suggestions, but I just really feel the application doesn’t meet the guidelines.”

Most of the commenters said that Castleman wasn’t as bad a person has he’s being made out to be in the media. Castleman served in the Civil War, fighting for the Confederacy, but later fought in the same war for the U.S. Army.

They said he donated land to form Cherokee Park, as well as Iroquois Park, and others. They pointed out that Castleman was against segregation of the parks and said he was progressive for the time in this belief.

One speaker, Brennan Callan, attempted to make the case that the city doesn’t own the monument and therefore has no right to remove it. He said many families contributed to the purchase of the statue, and there’s no bill of sale to the city.

“I challenge you as a committee to look at the legal aspect of this which is if the mayor doesn’t have a bill of sale, he doesn’t have a title or deed, he is stealing yet another monument that the city does not own,” Callan said. “And so, therefore, you all would be participating, unwittingly, in his embezzlement and theft of another monument.”

Brennan Callan spoke to the Cherokee Triangle Architectural Review Committee Wednesday night. Also pictured is committee member Christopher Fuller. | Photo by Lisa Hornung

One commenter said policy should not be dictated by vandals.

“It seems like this has all emerged out of vandalism, and I think we should take special care to not reinforce something that is essentially a crime, damaging public property,” said Walter Christopherson. “The wrong decision here can encourage those kinds of actions in the future.”

If the city decides to appeal to the case, it will be heard by the Landmarks Commission.

This story has been updated to add an affiliation for Bryan Svoboda. 

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Lisa Hornung a native of Louisville and has worked in local media for more than 15 years as a writer and editor. Before that she worked as a writer, editor and photographer for community newspapers in Kansas, Ohio and Kentucky. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia, and after a 20-year career in journalism, she obtained a master’s degree in history from Eastern Kentucky University in 2016.