(photo by File Photo)

CIVIC CENTER — Twenty years ago, Santa Monica resident and activist Jerry Rubin advocated to get “Chain Reaction,” a sculpture created by Pulitzer prize-winning editorial cartoonist Paul Conrad, accepted for the front lawn of the Civic Center.

It was a contentious battle that split the 1991 City Council down the middle, finally ending in a 4-3 vote in favor of the dramatic piece that depicts a mushroom cloud of chain links formed around a fiberglass shell.

As the discussion went on, a frustrated Rubin sat outside City Hall, unable to continue listening to the back and forth. The artist responsible for the debate joined him.

“Paul Conrad put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘Jerry, you know what we need to do now? Let’s go get a Ben and Jerry’s peace pop,’” Rubin said.

Rubin and other supporters won that fight, and “Chain Reaction” took its place at the heart of Santa Monica’s civic culture, a peaceful testament to a vicious act that they prayed would never be repeated.

Fast forward two decades, and “Chain Reaction” is under threat again, but now by a more insidious attack than aesthetic disagreement — old age.

But Rubin is still here to protect it.

Earlier this week, Building Officer Ron Takiguchi noticed that the sculpture was in disrepair. Most of the fasteners that kept the outer shell attached to the core were either broken or nearly so.

“It was a public safety hazard,” said Malina Moore, public art coordinator for City Hall.

When Rubin heard about the state of “Chain Reaction,” he immediately worked up a petition to circulate over the busy Fourth of July weekend to raise support for the ailing sculpture. He’ll be at the Fourth of July parade on Main Street Monday looking for signatures.

The piece isn’t under immediate threat, but Rubin isn’t taking any chances.

“It’s better to be safe and show community support to keep it rather than do nothing,” Rubin said.

Public worry and outcry about the piece has gotten overblown, Moore said.

“We have not made any statements about moving it, or destroying it,” she said. “It’s in a precarious state at the moment. We don’t want anybody to get injured in the meantime.”

The next step is to get an independent structural engineer to take a look at the piece, and a conservator. The team will be able to do a thorough structural assessment without damaging it, city official said.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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