West End's Ezzard Charles Statue Fighting Pandemic-Related Delays

Jul 8, 2020

Work continues on creating an 8-foot tall bronze statue honoring the "Cincinnati Cobra," Ezzard Charles. Like everything else this year, it seems, progress is delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The original unveiling date of October 2020 is being pushed to spring 2021, according to Jennifer Spieser, executive director of the Cincinnati Parks Foundation. She notes the sculptor is "just a few weeks away from being absolutely finished, so our goal would be sometime this year to go to bronze casting and have it ready by the spring."

The foundation is hosting an informational webinar about the statue's progress Thursday, June 9, at 11 a.m. Participants include Spieser, sculptor John Hebenstreit, SunnyBlu Art Agency Founder Kailah
Ware, BLDG Refuge Creative Director Jason Snell, and biographer William Detloff.

Hebenstreit, whose previous works include the Black Brigade monument in Smale Riverfront Park, spoke with WVXU about the project in November 2018. The plan calls for a plaza about the size of a boxing ring with a five-foot tall gray granite pedestal at the center topped by an eight-foot tall Ezzard Charles in his traditional boxing stance.

"(Hebenstreit) has used a couple different models as well as Ezzard Charles' son to get the likeness just perfectly," Spieser says.

"We want him to look like a very determined, strong, vital individual, the way that people remember him as a boxer," Hebenstreit told WVXU.

An artist's rendering of the finished statue in the West End's Laurel Park.
Credit Courtesy of the Cincinnati Parks Foundation

The base of the statue will feature information about Charles' life, and a companion mobile app is under development.

"Our plan is to have this beautiful plaza with signage that talks about Ezzard's life because he was more than just this world-famous heavyweight boxing champion. He was a veteran and a musician and a great goodwill ambassador to the West End community, so that signage in Laurel part will talk about all facets of his life."

The Cincinnati Parks Foundation has raised about $85,000 of the $275,000 needed for the project in the West End's Laurel Park. Several large fundraising events were postponed and Spieser says fundraising that was halted by the pandemic in March just restarted in June.

Some support is expected from FC Cincinnati. The statue is included in the stadium benefits agreement between the team and the West End community. Laurel Park is one block west of the team's planned soccer stadium.

Ezzard Charles was known as the "Cincinnati Cobra."
Credit Courtesy of the Cincinnati Parks Foundation

Ezzard Charles would pass the spot where the park now stands on his regular training runs between Union Terminal and Music Hall.

Charles was more than the world heavyweight boxing champion - the man who famously beat Joe Louis in 1950. He also was a veteran who worked with kids and spoke three languages. Born in Georgia, he was a musician and loved jazz, bringing records home from his travels abroad.