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Former Santa Monica Mayors Rally to Save “Chain Reaction”

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

March 19, 2013 -- In an open letter Monday, six of Santa Monica's former mayors voiced their support for saving “Chain Reaction,” Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Paul Conrad's 26-foot-tall anti-nuclear sculpture.

Denny Zane, Michael Feinstein, Judy Abdo, Jim Conn, Paul Rosenstein and Nat Trives, whose careers collectively span more than three decades of Santa Monica politics, signed the letter to support efforts by the Conrad family to raise money to repair the sculpture which the City has said needs to be removed due to safety concerns.

“We're very appreciative,” said Dave Conrad, son of Paul Conrad. “It's a huge vote of confidence from people who know how Santa Monica works and also know the history of Santa Monica and the valuable place in that history that Chain Reaction occupies.”

Dave Conrad believes that the letter will help drum up support for the fundraising effort to save his father's sculpture. Estimates for the cost of repairs to the sculpture range from $85,000 to as much as $423,000.

Judy Abdo, who was on the City Council when it voted to approve the sculpture in 1990, said, “I'm supporting because I always supported it.”

“I was on the Council when we decided to install it. I was happy to support it then and I'm happy to support it now,” she said.

For Abdo, who was mayor from 1990 to 1991 and again from 1992 to 1994, said that she has fond memories of Paul Conrad's cartoons.

“I thought that this chain reaction as a cartoon was very, very effective. When he wanted to make it into a sculpture, it was an even stronger statement of anti-war,” she said.

The sculpture, a facsimile of a mushroom cloud constructed out of chains, has written at its base, "This is a statement of peace. May it never become an epitaph."

That message has resonated with Zane, one of the co-founders of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) and mayor from 1988 to 1990.

“For me, the issue of the piece is about its message and is amplified by my regard for the messenger, Paul Conrad,” Zane said, adding that the fact that sculpture is constructed out of chains suggests, “we're all imprisoned with the fear and the risk that is related to nuclear weapons and their proliferation.”

“The mushroom cloud wasn't simply the cloud of a weapon exploding,” he said. “It was a cloud over all of our lives.”

Feinstein, who served as mayor from 2000 to 2002, feels that “Chain Reaction” is an important part of the city's history.

“The reason why I thought the letter was important and signed on to it is because having mayors who span 30 years of city history shows that this is truly a legacy piece with an enduring message that needs to be preserved,” he said.

For him, the sculpture represents a piece of Santa Monica's political fabric, but also that the message is as relevant today as it was during the end of the Cold War when it was built.

“It's actually a timeless piece,” said Rosenstein, who was mayor from 1994 to 1996. “It's not only a reminder of what we went through in the Cold War, but also the current challenge we're facing with other countries in the world.”

Not everyone believes it is the right piece for Santa Monica.

Bruria Finkel, an artist and community activist, said, “The piece is falling apart.”

The City recommended taking down the two-decade-old sculpture in January 2012 because they believed that exposure to the elements had eroded the fiberglass frame that supports the work and that it had become a threat to public safety.

Even without the threat to public safety, Finkel has aesthetic issues with the piece, saying that the mushroom cloud is not an image of peace.

“I think the piece is a confusing piece in a certain sense,” she said “I suggest that the City should create a call to artists and create an opportunity for artists to really address the images that they want to see for peace.”

The sculpture's future remains uncertain, but last January, the Council voted to give supporters another year to raise the money necessary to repair the sculpture. The Council also voted to commit $50,000 if the necessary funds were raised.

Though only about $10,000 has been raised so far, Dave Conrad said that there are plans in the works to hold a concert as well as an art show at Bergamot Station to help support the project.

He is also working with grant writer Abby Arnold in the hopes of soliciting larger donations from agencies.

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