The scale of the Pioneer Memorial is inhuman. Occupying the length of a city block, its sheer brick battlements rise nearly a hundred feet above Hill Street, separated from the sidewalk by a dry moat, fed by a dry waterfall. It is not immediately clear what memory this monstrous structure is defending. While it claims to be in honor of Fort Moore’s 4th of July dedication in 1847, the fort itself is not explained or described on the memorial. Only the fort’s flagpole is shown, and that is too mythopoetically huge for the huge edifice to depict, its mighty staff erupting off the top of the central bas relief.

It is also not a literal memorial to American pioneers. The only reference to them is a vague dedication inscribed on an eagle-emblazoned pylon:

“To the Brave Men and Women, Who with Trust in God Faced Privation and Death in Extending the Frontiers of Our Country to Include this Land of Promise”

The rest of the memorial makes it clear that these brave people are, for the most part, the Mormon Battalion—the only religious unit in United States history. Their march to California is described in foot high letters as “one of the longest, most arduous infantry marches in history.” Though as an infantry march, it was also entirely pointless, since fighting in Alta California ended well before they arrived. Aside from the “Battle of the Bulls” in Arizona (2 soldiers wounded, 11 wild cows killed), the Mormon Battalion did no fighting at all. They did do most of the construction work on Fort Moore, and the Church of Latter-Day Saints helped pay for the Pioneer Memorial, so the Mormon Battalion’s labor gets major billing. But this also makes the absence of the fort on the memorial even more odd.

It’s not as if there weren’t plenty of pioneers inside Fort Moore Hill itself to memorialize. In 1951, the excavation of the 101 freeway even turned up the remains of a soldier in full uniform. Scientists poked at the bones with a stick. “That guy,” they said, clipboards in hand, “is dead. He looks pretty old too,” they added, while jumping out of the path of an earthmover.

But that pioneer solder—perhaps one of the few killed at Fort Moore—is not mentioned on the Fort Moore Pioneer Memorial. Even Benjamin Moore, the martyred namesake of the fort and hill, is not mentioned. And it goes without saying that none of the Californios killed by these brave men and women are referenced in any way.
The only person who’s death is specifically memorialized on the memorial is Doyle Strong, a construction worker mentioned on the plaque for artists and sponsors. He was killed in by the memorial itself when a wooden wall holding back the hill collapsed, burying him in heavy yellow clay.

But if not the fort itself, or the soldiers who died there, or any of the people who died in the conquest of California, what does the Fort Moore Pioneer Memorial memorialize?

It is a monument to forgetting. Of the fort, of the hill, and of all that came before them. It does not preserve their memories—it preserves their erasure. Its mighty 4th of July flagpole does not indicate a now-absent place. It is a towering pin dropped onto the timeline of history, marking the zero point from which memories of Los Angeles are allowed to happen.