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Santa Monica Begins Assessing ‘Chain Reaction’

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

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

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

April 3, 2015 -- Just how stable is that 26-foot-tall A-bomb mushroom cloud rising up near Santa Monica Civic Center? Engineers began working this week to find out, City officials announced.

A long-awaited structural assessment of the late L.A. Times cartoonist Paul Conrad’s famous -- locally, at least -- “Chain Reaction” sculpture, the focus of a year-long communitywide preservation effort, finally began Wednesday, City spokesperson Debbie Lee said.

It’s the first step toward repairing and restoring the City landmark Conrad donated to Santa Monica as public art in 1991, Lee said. Because it received a City landmark designation in 2012, the sculpture must be restored according to landmark standards ( “Santa Monica’s ‘Chain Reaction’ Will Stay, Says City Council,” February 26, 2014).   

To get to the mushroom cloud’s fiberglass interior dome, a conservator and a structural engineer will first need to design “scaffolding which will provide the necessary access to conduct the assessment,” Lee said.

“After the assessment, recommendations will be made to the Landmarks Commission for restoration. The scaffolding is scheduled to remain in place throughout the assessment and until the repair work is complete,” said Lee.

Created by Conrad in the shape of an A-bomb blast, “Chain Reaction” is supported by a steel frame substructure encased in a fiberglass mold. The mold is covered with hundreds of copper chain links welded together and affixed to the fiberglass with screws and wire, according to the Save Chain Reaction residents’ group, which launched a year-long fund-raising effort on behalf of the artwork.

Some of the supporting fasteners, however, were found to be missing, not fully imbedded, or showing signs of corrosion, according to a previous City analysis of the sculpture.

Because it’s difficult to access, the condition of the mushroom dome’s interior mold is unknown, Save Chain Reaction’s website said. The earlier assessment by the City, however, found that the sculpture overall is not in danger of collapsing and poses no danger to the public.

The artwork’s fiberglass covering also needs to be checked for structural integrity, the group said.

City Council members had been set to return the sculpture to Conrad’s family or an art institution of the family’s choosing, but “Chain Reaction” got a reprieve in March 2012, when the Council voted to give its supporters more time to raise money for repairs.

To pay for the repair work, Save Chain Reaction, led by David Conrad, the artist’s son, raised more than $100,000. Then in February, the City Council voted to pay for the rest of the repair work, which could cost as much as $423,000.

Only Councilman Bob Holbrook voted against funding the repairs, saying he had qualms about spending up to $300,000 in City funds on the project.

As part of the restoration, the City will build a landscape barrier around the base of “Chain Reaction” to keep people from climbing onto the sculpture.

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