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Drive to Save Santa Monica's “Chain Reaction” Enters Final Stretch

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

October 16, 2013 -- The February deadline is fast approaching for activists to raise nearly half a million dollars for what the City says are badly-needed repairs to Santa Monica's anti-nuclear sculpture “Chain Reaction.”

But with only four months to go before the City Council once again considers removing the art piece, supporters have raised only about $30,000. As a result, proponents of Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Paul Conrad's 26-foot-tall sculpture -- a two-decade-old facsimile of a mushroom cloud made entirely out of chains -- will have their work cut out for them.

While activists claim that repairs to the sculpture, the structural integrity of which was called into question about two years ago when a City engineer saw it swaying in the breeze, could cost as little as $80,000, City officials maintain that the community needs to raise at least a couple hundred thousand dollars to warrant moving forward with the process of saving the sculpture.

Jessica Cusick, the City's cultural affairs manager said, that while the actual cost of repairs could be less than the highest estimate of $423,000, “We are looking at a project that's going to cost more than $100,000.”

Even with the $50,000 that the City Council committed to match the community's fund raising efforts, “we're still not even at the $100,000 mark,” she said. “It doesn't make sense to put a lot of people to unnecessary work” until there's more money.

But exactly how much money is part of the problem, said Landmarks Commissioner Roger Genser.

“There are dueling consultant reports about the extent of what's required,” he said. The City doesn't want to move forward with defining the scope of the work that needs to be done to the sculpture, but that's information that will help raise funds, he said.

“Chain Reaction” went before the Landmarks Commission for what Genser estimates was its dozenth time in two years Monday.

At the hearing, a routine update on the sculpture's structural integrity and some of the patchwork the City has done on the landmarked piece, the Commission heard from Steve Colton, an art conservationists who estimates it would cost between $80,000 and $295,000 to repair the sculpture.

Cusick stands by the City's estimates, which range between $227,372 to $423,172 and are based on reports by City staff and Peter Carlson, who manufactured the sculpture in 1991.

“That's difficult when you're trying to fund raise,” said Genser, referring to the disparity in estimates.

“We'd like to get a little bit definition,” said Dave Conrad, the son of the sculpture's creator and the person spearheading the cause to save his father's work. He added that he and his supporters are aiming to hit the $400,000 mark, despite the Colton's lower estimate, which Conrad called “more realistic” than the City's quote in January.

Because “Chain Reaction” is an official landmark, any work that's done to it must be approved by the Landmarks Commission with a certificate of appropriateness.

Petitioning the Commission for a certificate of appropriateness could help define the scope of work that needs to be done, Conrade hopes.

“We definitely need to tie down what exactly needs work and what it's going to cost,” he said.

At Monday's meeting, the Commission agreed to put “Chain Reaction” on its agenda next month, this time, for a more open-ended discussion about the sculpture's future, Genser said.

“Everyone has to agree what's necessary,” he said. “The clock's ticking along.”

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