February 15, 2019
Dear Albany High School Community,
Background: The WWI Red Baron airplane that hangs in the Little Theater lobby, was designed and built by Tyler Hoare, local artist who also created the water sculptures at the Berkeley Marina. Around 1979, he offered the sculpture to the cities of Berkeley and Albany who both said that they were not in a position to accept it due to space and community concerns. The principal of Albany High School at that time, offered to display it where it hangs today. Over the years, and in particular during the Instagram incident in 2017, multiple district, community and media outlets connected the sculpture to a Nazi war plane (there is an iron cross, not a swastika but the color themes are similar to WWI and WWII German aircraft) There is also a noticeable machine gun at the top of the sculpture, which was concerning, especially during the aftermath of the Florida school shootings. As principal, I made the decision to explore the possibility of donating the plane and replacing it with contemporary AHS student art that reflects a truer image, mission and legacy of our school.
Process: The following is a list of those that were consulted. The question was, do we keep the plane or donate it and why.
Tyler Hoare, artist. I was able to speak to Mr. Hoare on two occasions, January and February 2019. He provided the history of the sculpture, confirmed that it was the property of Albany High School and said that it was our decision to replace the plane
Student letter sent to me in 2017 included a well researched summary of the historical context of the plane and why some students and community members might be offended by it being so prominently displayed at our front entrance. Being a combat plane and having a gun at the top were among their concerns.
AHS Department Chairs and staff. We came to the consensus that it was time to remove and replace the plane with contemporary art.
Albany High School PTSA. They were in agreement that it was a good idea to remove and replace the plane with student art.
City of Albany. Vice-Mayor McQuaid supported our intent and provided insight into public art considerations.
Current and former Board of Education members. Provided insights and supported the project of removing and replacing the plane.
AUSD Jewish Parent Advisory Group and Black Parent Advisory Group. Both were in support of the project.
District leadership and maintenance staff. Both supported the project and the logistics needed to lower the plane.
Albany Public Library. Provided background information.
Next steps: The plane is scheduled to be carefully lowered over the mid-winter break by our maintenance department. I have arranged to donate the plane to the Livermore co-ed Scout Troop Post997.org who are affiliated with RobotGarden.org and TriValleySTEM.org. It will be displayed along with other WWI aviation projects they are currently working on.
Alexia Ritchie, Principal