When businessman Don Perdue relocated his company to Rapid City, South Dakota, he noticed the interest around the life-size Seated Lincoln sculpture outside the Hotel Alex Johnson. He saw how the public interacted with President Lincoln, often having photos taken while sitting next to him. Perdue recognized this as an asset to the Rapid City economy and thought: “What if statues stood on every street corner of the downtown area?” After seeing nearby Mount Rushmore, a visitor could see the rest of the men who shaped American history. The dream began.
In February 1999 during a Rapid City Lincoln Day dinner, Perdue shared his ideas with Dallerie Davis, a Black Hills realtor and active member of the artist community. Dallery was sure she knew artists who would commit to this project. The original artists were John Lopez, Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby, James Michael Maher and Ed Hlavka. James Van Nuys was later included in the team.
The artists did extensive research into the lives of each president. They and the board of directors agreed that they did not want to create static portraits of men in suits standing on the street corners. Each statue was to give some insight into the personality and the presidency of its subject. The dream was becoming a reality.
The cost for all 42 presidents would be $2 million dollars – all to be raised through private donations and not government funding. The intention was to place the statues on the corners of Rapid City’s downtown, giving an identity to the city as well as having an artistic and economical impact. Slowly, the benefactors came forward and The City of Presidents was born. The dream was almost complete.
In 2000, the first four U. S. presidents were placed on the street corners of Rapid City. In 2002, Perdue purchased an historic building in the downtown area and established the President’s Information Center, which was designed to resemble the White House’s Oval Office. Visitors now can view maquettes (miniature versions of the statues) and can read presidential biographies displayed on the walls.
In October 2010, the final four statues were placed and the project was completed. On the day of the final unveilings, members of the Central High School Class of 1956 were honored for their continuing maintenance of the statues. Perdue also invited local Boy Scout troops to attend the ceremony so he could thank them for their years of tending to the appearance of the statues.
After hearing the story of Mr. Perdue’s dream, the scouts were asked and give their gift to him by reciting, “I will follow my dream – because I can make a difference!”