Santa Monica could fund 'Chain Reaction' sculpture preservation

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Paul Conrad's "Chain Reaction" sculpture in Santa Monica, the subject of a grass-roots preservation campaign, might well survive to remind future generations of the horrors of nuclear war.

Now that activists have raised funds to pay for some of the needed upgrades, the city manager said he plans to recommend that the city cover the remaining costs. A City Council vote is scheduled for Feb. 25.


Conrad, a three-time Pulitzer winner who died at 86 in 2010, was paid $250,000 by a private donor to sculpt the work. The 51/2-ton, 26-foot-tall sculpture features a mass of tangled chains in the shape of a mushroom cloud. The artwork — inscribed with the words, "This is a statement of peace. May it never become an epitaph" — has stood at the Santa Monica Civic Center since 1991.

At first, Conrad planned to build the sculpture of easy-to-maintain bronze. Instead, it was crafted of copper tubing over a fiberglass core and stainless steel frame.

In 2011, a city official raised concerns about the sculpture's safety after he saw children climbing on it.

Hampered by the loss of redevelopment money, the City Council in March 2012 approved the sculpture's removal but allowed supporters several months to raise funds to save it.

The city's Landmarks Commission voted unanimously in July 2012 to designate "Chain Reaction" a local landmark, complicating the removal plan.

Jerry Rubin, a local peace activist, co-founded a group called Save Chain Reaction and began rallying support. Along with David Conrad, the late cartoonist's son, Rubin has spent nearly two years raising money, in the process garnering the support of celebrity activists, including Michelle Phillips and Alexandra Paul.

"The council challenged the supporters of 'Chain Reaction' to raise funds for the structural stabilization of the sculpture, and approximately $40,000 has been raised," City Manager Rod Gould said in an email Friday. "Staff will recommend that council accept the funds and provide general funds to undertake the required structural investigation and restoration work to ensure public safety."

Estimates for repairs have ranged wildly, with the city floating a possible price tag of $400,000.

Rubin, who turned his 70th birthday party last month into a fundraiser, said in an email that "the community and Conrad family have shown Santa Monica that 'Chain Reaction' deserves to be saved and respectfully refurbished." He added that his group would continue fundraising and adding to its more than 3,600 online petition signatures. A $100-per-guest tribute to Conrad, featuring entertainer Harry Shearer and journalist Robert Scheer and a benefit auction, is scheduled for Jan. 13. For information, see the Save Chain Reaction website.

Conrad was The Times' editorial cartoonist for 29 years, during which he won three Pulitzer Prizes for his insightful, sharply aimed drawings. Joan Kroc, the late San Diego philanthropist and nuclear disarmament proponent and widow of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, paid the original $250,000 cost for the sculpture. It was built according to Conrad's designs by Peter Carlson, who also fabricated scores of large sculptures for other artists, including Robert Rauschenberg, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein and Jeff Koons.

"There has been a tremendous amount of public outpouring of support," said Councilwoman Gleam Davis, who supports the preservation effort. "It makes sense for the council to honor the … hard work that has gone into raising money. This is a landmark, and we need to take care of it."

Twitter: @MarthaGroves