ST. LOUIS • The city can’t remove a controversial Confederate monument from Forest Park until a dispute over who owns the statue is resolved, a judge ruled Monday.
A circuit court judge granted a temporary restraining order Monday to the Missouri Civil War Museum in Jefferson Barracks, which has claimed ownership of the structure, and set a trial for July 6.
The city has long maintained that it owns the statue and was in the process of dismantling it. On Monday, workers began installing steel rigging on the 38-foot-tall structure and planned to take it down as early as this week.
Officials from the museum say the United Daughters of the Confederacy has signed over ownership to them. Under a 1912 ordinance, the city gave the organization the green light to erect and maintain the monument in the city’s largest public park.
Mayor Lyda Krewson acknowledged that the court system would determine ownership of the statue, but she raised the question of whether other city statues would be subject to such claims.
“There are a number of statues in our parks and around our regions,” she said in a written statement. “If someone were to come forward and claim to own another statue, what will the outcome be?”
Koran Addo, a Krewson spokesman, said the city had planned to move the monument into storage, where it would remain until the city considers proposals from parties interested in displaying it.
The Missouri Civil War Museum filed a lawsuit against the city on Friday.
The mayor’s office has sought to take down the monument quickly, as it has sparked passionate debate and protests among city residents. Supporters of removal argue the statue is a painful reminder of slavery and white supremacy. Opponents say it should be protected as a piece of American history and out of respect to war veterans.
Attorneys representing the museum made the case that Civil War experts, accustomed to handling artifacts, would be better equipped to move the memorial, possibly without drilling holes into the structure, as the city has already done.
Moving the antique monument multiple times poses a risk of damage, as the structure is more than 100 years old, said attorney Jay Kanzler.
“The museum is ready to move the monument out right now, if the city would just say, ‘OK,’” Kanzler said.
But lawyers for the city expressed doubts that the museum had raised enough private money to take down the memorial immediately and chalked up its ownership claims to a political stunt.
Mark Trout, the museum’s executive director, said Monday that the museum has raised more than $15,000 for removal costs so far.
“We haven’t even really gotten going on that,” Trout said.
Because the city has already incurred removal costs, including more than $25,000 for a crane that had been set to remove the largest piece of the monument on Tuesday, the restraining order is contingent on the museum putting up a $10,000 bond.
“No matter who you side with, they want it removed,” said St. Louis City Counselor Michael Garvin. “There is no need for an injunction here.”
But St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Robert Dierker said that while he was hopeful the city and museum could come to some sort of compromise on how to remove the monument and where to store it, “It’s by no means clear who owns this thing.”