CITY HALL — After being on the chopping block, the future of “Chain Reaction” looks secure.
The City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night in favor of accepting more than $100,000 in donations and restoring the aging, three-story sculpture resembling a nuclear mushroom cloud. That includes spending as much as $75,000 to complete a study of the structure’s stability.
Councilman Bob Holbrook voted against the move.
Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Paul Conrad gifted City Hall the sculpture in the early 1990s but in recent years city officials have said it is in need of repair and poses a threat to public safety.
City Hall estimates that the repair costs range from $200,000 to $400,000 but they won’t know for sure until extensive testing is done. Fans of the sculpture say the repairs could be completed for far less than those estimates.
The sculpture’s future has been on ice for the past two years as advocates raised funds, per council’s request.
Advocates said the vagueness of the final cost made it hard to gain financial support but they still managed to pull in more than $100,000 for the project.
Between the newly approved $75,000 in testing, the $80,000 previously spent on repairs and testing, and the estimated costs, City Hall stands to spend between $255,000 and $455,000 on total maintenance after the public’s donations.
That cost was the primary reason for the lone dissenting vote by Holbrook.
“We could go on and on about the things we could get for the city with that money: thousands and thousands of library books,” he said. “We could provide a lot of benefits to a lot of people. If the structure were offered to us today and someone said ‘we’ll sell it to you for $255,000 or $455,000,’ I don’t know that we would have accepted it or that the council would have accepted it 20 years ago.”
He suggested that City Hall could cover up the sculpture until residents fully funded the project.
Councilmember Tony Vazquez talked about all the other art installations that he’d approved during his time on council that he didn’t quite understand.
“Many others I thought were very abstract but everyone said, ‘well it’s art, go ahead and approve it.’ This one to me has political significance,” he said. “To see it deteriorate and disappear; I couldn’t live with myself if it happened.”
Councilmember Terry O’Day lauded the tenacity of the advocates and the willingness of all parties to communicate with one another.
Councilmember Gleam Davis praised the advocates’ ability to raise funds through many small donations rather than one or two major gifts.
“I think we came here with an elegant solution but I think it’s a solution that’s only made possible by the people in this room and honestly by a lot of the people outside of this room,” she said.
Because the sculpture was declared an official landmark, any work will require approval by the Landmarks Commission and will need to meet the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Standard for Treatment of Historic Properties.
After tests are performed, city officials will go before council with the final costs. Building Officer Ron Takiguchi has recommended that a barrier be placed at least 13 feet from the sculpture to keep people from climbing on it or getting too close to it.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown made a motion to ensure that the barrier serve only to keep people off of the sculpture, not to inhibit views. He suggested that city officials consider making the barrier a peace garden, as many advocates have pushed for.
Local peace activist Jerry Rubin along with Conrad’s son, Dave Conrad, led the charge to save the sculpture.
The advocates call themselves the Chain Gang and held a rally in support of the sculpture outside of City Hall before the meeting. Many spoke in favor of “Chain Reaction.”
“It doesn’t seem like much of a fight anymore,” Rubin said after the meeting. “It seems like a cooperative endeavor.”
Rubin plans to hold a public gathering in front of the sculpture on June 27 to honor the cartoonist’s would-be 90th birthday.
The work has always been controversial.
When City Hall took a straw poll on whether to accept the sculpture in 1991, the vote was 730-392 against. Officials ignored the results amid allegations that Conrad critics had stuffed the ballot box.
Although regarded as a liberal, the Los Angeles Times political cartoonist skewered elected officials across the political spectrum and had his share of critics on all sides.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.