Rendering courtesy Arleen Ferrara
Rendering courtesy Arleen Ferrara

CIVIC CENTER — Supporters of the “Chain Reaction” statue in the Civic Center released a design over the weekend for a sustainable garden at the site that could provide a place for viewers to enjoy the artwork as it protects it from unwanted attention.

The proposed “Peace Garden” looks like an incomplete peace sign from the top with legs formed out of three paths made of decomposed granite that allow access to the sculpture from all sides.

Curved benches formed of rammed earth arch along the outside angles of the big legs connecting with the flag pole which sits amongst a planted area full of drought-tolerant greenery.

Arleen Ferrara, a designer with Satori Garden Designs, created the mock-up after meeting Jerry Rubin, who’s leading up the effort to save “Chain Reaction,” a 26-foot-tall sculpture modeled after a mushroom cloud that sits in the Civic Center. It could be removed early next year by officials concerned about the structural safety of the statue.

The not-quite peace sign symbolizes that “we aren’t really there yet” as a civilization, Ferrara said.

Ferrara became involved with the movement when she met Rubin at the Spring Jubilee, an event in Downtown Santa Monica that highlighted Santa Monica’s personality and businesses as well as British culture.

Ferrara had designed one of the gardens; Rubin was there selling bumper stickers. The two got to talking about one of Rubin’s favorite subjects, “Chain Reaction.”

“We hashed some ideas around and I thought that what we needed was not just an island of plants around the sculpture protecting it and highlighting it, but a way for people to enjoy it in a nice environment,” Ferrara said.

The sculpture, designed by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Paul Conrad, became the center of attention two years ago when a Building and Safety official noticed children climbing on it. There is concern that the inner structure may have deteriorated over the years.

The observation led to a recommendation that City Hall remove the piece from its public art portfolio and either donate it to another institution or get rid of it altogether.

Community members took up the torch for the sculpture, lining up speakers at public meetings and even bringing members of Conrad’s family in to fight for the art piece. They were told that the only hope of saving the piece was to raise $400,000 by Feb. 14, 2014 to pay for what City Hall has declared necessary repairs to make the sculpture structurally sound.

Although activists dispute that amount, grant writer Abby Arnold came on board to support the work of a power committee that includes local gallery owners Robert Berman of Santa Monica Auctions and Craig Krull, journalists like Robert Scheer of KCRW’s “Left, Right and Center” and Narda Zacchino of the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times and others.

Supporters raised between $13,000 and $15,000 of the total needed by the beginning of the new fiscal year, and even with another eight months to go, it’s all hands on deck.

If they raise the full amount, City Hall will put in $50,000 from the Cultural Trust Fund, which will likely go toward landscaping and a barrier similar to that designed by Ferrara.

It would be a wonderful addition to the Civic Center, which City Hall envisions as a cultural center that could include the landmarked — and mothballed — Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Rubin said.

“This is important for so many reasons,” Rubin said. “It’s an iconic landmark, one of the most creative public art pieces and a timely message that’s important for people to reflect on and understand.”

Whether or not City Hall will ultimately use Ferrara’s design will be the matter of public process down the line, assuming that supporters raise the required cash. Dave Conrad, the designer’s son, is thrilled that lovers of the statue are maintaining so positive an attitude toward its continued presence in the Civic Center.

“For the first time, like a year ago, we were just going to get this done,” Conrad said, describing the mood of those who initially joined together to save the sculpture. “Now, I feel like we’re going to get this done because we’ve got such a good group assembled.”

Supporters will gather at the sculpture on Aug. 6 in memory of the victims of the 1945 nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. They have also planned a fundraiser for “Chain Reaction” at the Bergamot Station Arts Center on Aug. 18.

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