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Santa Monica’s “Chain Reaction” Will Stay, Says City Council

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

February 26, 2014 -- Santa Monica’s “Chain Reaction” sculpture will stay standing after the City Council Tuesday voted to fully fund repairs to the 20-year-old artwork.

Tuesday’s 6-to-1 vote puts to rest two years of uncertainty whether the 26-foot-tall facsimile of a mushroom cloud, designed by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Paul Conrad as an anti-nuclear message, will remain standing despite severe weathering.

“We threw down a challenge and you met the challenge,” said Councilmember Gleam Davis to the crowd Tuesday. “The community outpouring for it shows that it’s well-loved.”

The City Council voted last February to give activists a year to raise the money necessary to fix the sculpture, which City officials estimated could be as much as $423,000.

The artists’ son, Dave Conrad, led fundraising efforts and eventually raised more than $100,000 to save the sculpture, which has become an anti-war symbol for some in Santa Monica.

“I remember coming to Santa Monica for the first time and, as a young person, wondering about this community,” said Mayor Pro Tempore Terry O’Day.

He added that no structure stood out as more definitive of Santa Monica’s values as Conrad’s sculpture.

While City staff had originally argued that the costs for repairing the structure were prohibitive, last December, City Manager Rod Gould reversed his position.

He said that the amount of money supporters had raised showed that the community was committed to saving the sculpture.

But it wasn’t enough for City Councilmember Bob Holbrook, who cast the lone “no” vote Tuesday.

“There’s no question that Mr. Conrad was a great cartoonist,” said Holbrook. But with as much as $300,000 of public money still possibly going to repair the sculpture, he said it was “too big an expense.”

Said Holbrook, “I just kind of think that it’s not my business to promote” a political message with public dollars.

Still, Davis called the decision Tuesday night “an elegant solution” made possible by the hard work of the volunteers who spent the last year raising money.

Now that the City Council has approved the funds to repair the sculpture, City staff will go forward with further testing to gauge exactly how much work needs to be done to shore-up the sculpture’s structural integrity, staff said.

And, since the sculpture is an official City landmark, staff will then have to draw up plans for the repairs according to landmark standards.

The Council also approved funding for a landscape barrier around the base of the sculpture as a way of preventing people from climbing on the structure.

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