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Landmarks Commission Delays Decision on Santa Monica's “Chain Reaction”    


By Melonie Magruder
Staff Writer

April 11, 2012 -- The Santa Monica Landmarks Commission on Monday continued a decision on whether to apply for landmark designation for the Civic Center's iconic "Chain Reaction" sculpture to guarantee further testing can be conducted.

If a landmark designation application were filed, any alteration or demolition of the 26-foot high sculpture City officials worry poses a public danger would be prohibited by City Code, staff told the commission.

The aging sculpture, an anti-nuclear war “statement of peace” given to the City by Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Paul Conrad in 1990, got a reprieve last month when the City Council voted to give supporters at least until November 15 to raise the funds needed to repair the work.

While structural engineers have determined repairs would cost between $227,372 and $423,172, the invasive testing required to determine the extent of the repairs would not be allowed under a landmark application.

“Without firm knowledge of the extent of repair, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing,” Cultural Affairs Manager Jessica Cusick told the commission. 

“The city doesn’t have these kinds of funds to expend on public art, so it’s up to the artist’s family and other supporters to raise the money," Cusick said. "And they need a realistic idea of the extent of costs.”

City staff has estimated that further testing, done in conjunction with an arts conservator, would require about a month and would provide a proper budget and a list of necessary repairs. The funds for the testing have already been appropriated.

The Arts Commission earlier this year recommended removing -- or “deaccessing” -- the five-and-a-half ton work after engineers found that many of the fasteners that attach the copper tubing chain to the fiberglass core were either missing, not fully imbedded or exhibited severe corrosion.

The decision spurred champions of the sculpture to quickly organize to save the work, and a fundraising drive is being spearheaded by Conrad's family.

The City's Landmarks Commission has never granted landmark designation to a work of public art, usually reserving the designation for buildings or their elements (such as the Zucky’s wall sign) and for trees of a certain age.

The commissioners generally supported an eventual landmark designation, but were loath to do anything Monday that would interfere with a private fundraising process.

“Personally, I favor applying for a landmark designation after the money has been raised to do the necessary repairs,” said Chair Pro Temp Ruth Shari.

Commissioner Margaret Bach wondered if an application was possible at all.  “Are public art sculptures landmarkable?” she asked.

Commission Historian Roger Genser noted the “ticking timeline” of the November deadline, but said it was incumbent on the commission to give staff and engineers enough time to determine the viability and true cost of repair.

“I believe this is an important work of art,” Genser said. “It has so much to say for the past, the present and the future.”

Commissioner Barbara Kaplan agreed that staff should expedite the process to comprehensively examine the sculpture, which would then allow the fundraising process to “get started sooner.”

“We can still explore the cultural significance of this art work in advance of a landmark nominating process,” she said.

In the end, the commission unanimously voted to continue discussion of an application for landmark status to a future meeting, while investigating the cultural significance of the work and its relationship to Santa Monica.

Jerry Rubin, a local peace activist and champion of “Chain Reaction,” spoke passionately about the timely significance of the sculpture.

“The issues this art work represents are so important,” Rubin said. “We’re talking about world peace. Giving this sculpture landmark status adds to the city’s integrity.”


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