He watched over what is now the Third Street Promenade with a focused stare and stoic smile, affixed to a pedestal, frozen in time.
Then he disappeared.
The bust of Santa Monica co-founder John Percival Jones was removed when the promenade underwent dramatic renovations in the late 1980s, relegated to a storage warehouse as officials made room for other decorative features on the popular pedestrian thoroughfare.
The cask bronze sculpture eventually found a fitting home outside the California Heritage Museum, which is located on Main Street near Ocean Park Boulevard in the former residence of Jones’ son.
“It’s striking if you’ve never been here before,” Tobi Smith, the museum’s executive director, said of the bust. “If you’re coming from our parking lot, which is one of the only free non-metered lots in this town, that’s the first thing you see when you come onto our grounds.”
Over the years, officials at the museum have pieced together some of the bust’s chronology. But, until now, they were still lacking critical information about its past. Of particular interest: Who made it?
Erica Christianson was visiting Santa Monica on a trip with co-workers last year when she came across a bust outside the California Heritage Museum.
The Oregon resident did a double take.
She was well-aware that her maternal great-grandparents were sculptors, she had seen their studio and she knew their style. The Jones piece had to be one of theirs.
Sure enough, research helped Christianson confirm that the Santa Monica sculpture was designed and crafted by Helen and Holger Jensen.
“I’ve just been trying to gather more information and documentation,” she said. “My family is aging, and I’m just trying to preserve some of the family history.”
But the Jensens weren’t just responsible for the Jones bust. The couple, who met while in art school in Chicago and later relocated to the Rustic Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles, created several high-profile sculptures in the region. They made busts of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, former L.A. Times publisher Harry Chandler, physicist Robert Millikan, astronomer George Hale and former L.A. County Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz. They also did work for the Doheny Memorial Library at USC and built gorillas for San Diego Zoo.
Christianson has been in touch with the Jensens’ daughter Janet, her great-aunt, to compile details about her artistic ancestors. She said many of the casts used to be kept at a relative’s barn in Washington state.
“They have a very particular style,” Christianson said.
Place in history
After years in storage, it was time for the Jones bust to see the light of day again.
Following renovations at Third Street Promenade, city officials in the cultural affairs division contacted the California Heritage Museum more than 15 years ago.
“They wanted a place where the statue could be seen,” Smith said. “They thought, ‘This is a historic landmark. What a better place than here to have the statue?’”
The bust now stands on a large concrete pedestal with a plaque that explains Jones’ connections to Santa Monica. A longtime politician who was a U.S. senator in Nevada, the England-born mining magnate bought land in the area and supported an early rail line to Santa Monica.
The Jones sculpture is a conversation starter at the museum, whose stable of visitors includes many tourists.
“We have lights on it at night, and it can kind of startle you,” Smith said. “It’s quite prominent. And it’s a very good resemblance of Senator Jones.”
The California Heritage Museum is located at 2612 Main St., in Santa Monica. For more information, call 310-392-8537, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.californiaheritagemuseum.org.