For nearly 50 years, Brigham Young has overlooked the Salt Lake Valley from his position atop This Is the Place Monument.

Beginning in 1944, a sculptor's assistant in his late 20s named Spero Anargyros crafted, with painstaking attention, the features on the 12-foot statue of the Mormon leader and other figures on the monument.On Saturday, Anargyros, now 81, returned to Salt Lake City for the first time in 20 years with his wife, Maria Ester Anargyros, so she could see the statue her husband had worked on for three years of his life.

"It's like a dream come true, because before this all I'd seen were old pictures" said Maria Anargyros.

Spero Anargyros was an assistant to Mahonri Young, a grandson to Brigham Young and accomplished sculptor. They worked in Connecticut, where the bronze portions of the statue were crafted.

The 70 figures on the monument were initially cast in clay. Plaster molds were made of the clay models and the molds were sent to Long Island, N.Y., where they were cast in bronze. Anargyros spent the final week in Salt Lake overseeing the placing of the bronze statues and putting final touches on the monument.

The artists were kept on a tight schedule, since officials from the state and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who commissioned the monument, wanted the statue in place by the end of July 1947 for the centennial celebration of the Mormon pioneers entering the valley.

Mahonri Young was in his late 70s by the time work began on the monument, but he maintained control over the work.

"I knew him when I was in art school," Anargyros said of Young, who taught at the Art Students League in New York before being commissioned to build the monument. "He was the creator, so he was totally and thoroughly in charge. I had an able pair of hands. I was young and enjoyed working and he knew that."

Work on the statue was set to begin in 1942 but was postponed by World War II. Anargyros served two years in Africa, but he was anxious to begin work as soon as the war ended. "So when I got back from Africa, the first thing I did was call him," Anargyros said.

Anargyros now lives in San Francisco and has molded a reputation as a sculptor, fashioning busts of famous and not-so-famous people around the world. He carved an enormous granite seal for the front of the San Francisco City Hall and redid all of the sculptures on the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

"I'm one of the fortunate people because I found out what I wanted to do at an early age and I've been doing it ever since," Anargyros said.

"The monument will always be the most recognizable piece" in the park, said This Is the Place State Park manager Mike Barker.

A good deal of work has been done on the area surrounding the statue and on the monument itself to combat water damage and oxidization, which causes the bronze to turn green, Barker said.

The monument is scheduled to be rededicated as part of the grand reopening of the Old Deseret Village on June 29 at 10 a.m. to accompany the unveiling of new pioneer homes and activities. Spero and Maria Anargyros said they will try to make it back to Salt Lake City to mark a significant milestone in the monument's history.