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City Council Report


City Council Meeting: February 25, 2014

    Agenda Item:  8-A 


To:               Mayor and City Council 

From:           Karen Ginsberg, Community & Cultural Services Director

                    David Martin, Planning & Community Development Director

Subject:        Next steps for Chain Reaction sculpture by Paul Conrad



Recommended Action

Staff recommends that the City Council:

1)    Recognize the community’s fundraising efforts and accept funds in the amount of $101,290 to support the restoration of Chain Reaction.

2)    Authorize the expenditure of up to $75,000 to complete additional testing as required by the City’s Building Official to address remaining areas of concern regarding the structural stability of the work.

3)    Authorize staff to proceed with development of a plan to restore the work, based on the findings and conclusions of the additional testing, including the development of a landscape barrier around the work.

4)    Appropriate the budget increases as outlined in the Financial Impacts and Budget Actions section of this report.


Executive Summary

The sculpture, installed in 1991, is in need of major conservation work. On March 20, 2012, Council approved the Arts Commission’s recommendation to remove Chain Reaction, and agreed to delay such action until November 15, 2012, to allow the family and members of the community time to fundraise for the necessary repairs.  On January 22, 2013 Council approved an extension through February 2014.  In July and November 2012, the work and an associated parcel of land were designated as a City landmark by the Landmarks Commission.  Due to the work’s landmark status, and the community’s demonstrated commitment in raising $101,290, staff is recommending the City proceed with final testing and analysis at a cost of approximately $75,000, and the development of a restoration plan for the work.  The plan would need to meet all of the requirements of the Secretary of the Interior standards for restoration and be subject to issuance of a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Landmarks Commission.  Staff would return to Council once the restoration plan has been developed, and a cost proposal has been secured, to request funding authorization to complete the restoration project and the landscape barrier.


History of the sculpture
Chain Reaction, by Paul Conrad, was a gift to the City that was approved by Council on October 9, 1990 after extensive public process and debate.  The work was funded by a private donation to the Santa Monica Arts Foundation of $250,000.  


Initial Assessment and Findings

In the summer of 2011, the City’s Building Official observed members of the public, including children, climbing and interacting with the sculpture and was prompted to complete a preliminary evaluation of its safety.  The City assembled a professional team to assess the structural integrity of the work.  Overall the findings were mixed, with some aspects that performed well, some identified areas of concern, and some substantial unknowns, due in part to the inability to access certain areas of Chain Reaction without causing substantial damage to the work.  The consulting team and the City’s Building Official identified the need for further testing and developed preliminary estimates of both the anticipated costs of such tests as well as the likely cost of repair, which ranged from approximately $200,000 to $400,000.  Further detail on the multi-year process, findings, and test results that ultimately led to the recommendation to deaccession the work is available in the March 20, 2012, and the January 22, 2013 staff reports to Council and in the section on structural testing below.


Action by the Arts Commission

The Santa Monica Arts Commission held a special meeting on February 1, 2012 to hear public testimony and consider the status of Chain Reaction.  They considered the findings to date along with the City’s deaccession policy which outlines when a work may be removed from public display.  The Arts Commission voted 10 to 1 in support of

the staff recommendation to deaccession and remove the sculpture.  The Commission also voted to recommend that such action be delayed by six months to allow the family and community supporters of Chain Reaction a period of time to raise the funds necessary to repair the work.


An update on the status of Chain Reaction was presented to the Arts Commission on January 17, 2013.  At that time staff proposed that the Commission recommend allocating $85,000 from the Cultural Trust Fund to be used to jumpstart community fundraising.  The proposal was not approved by the Commission.


City Council Action

On March 20, 2012, Council approved the Arts Commission’s recommendation to remove the sculpture, and agreed to delay such action until November 15, 2012, to allow the family and members of the community time to fundraise for the necessary repairs.  Council further instructed staff to complete the additional testing of the work that could be completed without major damage.


On January 22, 2013, Council revisited the status of Chain Reaction.  At that meeting Council approved an extension through February 2014 for the community’s fundraising efforts, authorized the allocation of up to $50,000 in matching funds, and authorized the expenditure of up to $20,000 to patch and repair the work in the interim.




Impact of Landmark Status

Chain Reaction is now the City’s first landmarked work of public art.  The work is no longer part of the City’s public art collection as it has been deaccessioned by the Arts Commission.  On July 9, 2012, the Landmarks Commission designated Chain Reaction a City landmark, and on November 12, 2012 they added an associated landmark parcel to the designation.  Pursuant to the Landmarks ordinance, any alteration, restoration, construction, removal, relocation or demolition of the sculpture or its associated landmark parcel will require issuance of a Certificate of Appropriateness by the Landmark Commission or City Council upon appeal.  And all work performed on the sculpture will need to meet the Secretary of the Interior Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.


Structural Testing:

In late 2011 and in early 2012 the City had all of the testing performed that could be completed without removal of the dome portion of the work.  The City’s Building Official received the final report from the structural engineer in late summer 2012 and issued a memo detailing his findings on September 6, 2012 (Attachment A).  The Building Official recommended that in order to ascertain and address any long-term safety concerns associated with the work, the dome would need to be removed, and testing would need to be completed on the portion of the sculpture that could not previously be accessed.  The City has asked Twining, along with Melvyn Green and Associates, the testing company and structural engineer that performed the earlier work on the sculpture, for an estimate to complete this final testing and structural evaluation, including removal of the dome.  The conservator, Rosa Lowinger, would also be involved as needed to limit damage to the work to the extent possible.  The estimated cost for this combined final phase of assessment and analysis is approximately $75,000. 


Restoration Plan

Depending on the findings of the remaining testing, and depending on the desired longevity of the restoration, portions of the work will need to be repaired and/or replaced.  For example, the engineers’ report clearly shows that the longevity of the fiberglass shell is a key issue, particularly at the top of the sculpture.


If the City were to invest between $200,000 and $400,000 to restore Chain Reaction, the level of restoration must address public safety and assure longevity; the work must be stable for at least the next 20 years.  The successful restoration of the sculpture will present complex challenges which have been compounded by its landmark status, and which staff will need to explore in conjunction with engineers, conservators, historic preservation specialists, and specialized fabricators.  The City will need to issue a RFP for qualified teams to develop a restoration plan based on the studies to date along with the findings from the final testing.


Community Fundraising Efforts

To date the family and community supporters of the work have secured approximately $101,290 for restoration.  This amount, along with the numerous community events and extensive associated media attention, demonstrate broad support for the work at the local and regional level.



Instead of funding the restoration of the sculpture, Council might choose to direct staff to initiate the required process to remove the landmarked sculpture by Paul Conrad, Chain Reaction, including applying to the Landmarks Commission for a certificate of appropriateness and ensuring compliance with CEQA.  Or Council could provide additional time for the community fundraising to allow the family and supporters to reach the full estimated cost of the restoration.

Financial Impacts & Budget Actions


Based upon staff’s recommendation to restore the work, in order to move forward with the testing Council would need to appropriate $75,000 to cover the estimated cost of the testing to account C014087.589000.  Staff would return to Council once the restoration plan has been developed, and a cost proposal has been secured, to request funding authorization to complete the restoration project and the landscape barrier. 



Prepared by: Jessica Cusick, Cultural Affairs Manager




Forwarded to Council:






Karen Ginsberg

Director, Community & Cultural Services


Rod Gould

City Manager




David Martin

Director, Planning & Community Development




Attachment A: Building Official Memo on Chain Reaction