A Thousand and One

We think that we shall never see

a sculpture lovely as a tree.

But gnarly branches would be certain

to improve the Copper Curtain.

It's fitting, if predictable, that an oak tree should wind up as the dominant image in the large artwork that adorns the freeway face of the Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks.

This city reveres its namesake tree. It splashes the oak on its municipal seal and Web site, defends it in the building code, salutes it on Arbor Day. When a public hearing was held last June to solicit ways to improve or replace the Copper Curtain, nearly all of the suggestions involved an oak in some form.

So what a relief it is to behold the design proposed by local architect Francisco Behr, a design that manages to be authentically oaky yet abstract enough to convey the lofty aspirations of the artists who perform inside.

We like Behr's concept of using the weathered brown curtain as backdrop for a verdigris silhouette of gnarled oak branches. When the City Council takes up the matter later this month, it should seriously consider this deft idea for turning an eyesore into an eye-catcher. Then ponder how to pay for it.

The Copper Curtain itself is a monument to bureaucratic timidity and second-guessing. Venice-based architect Antoine Predock, who designed the $64-million Civic Arts Plaza, conceived the curtain as a kinetic sculpture of multicolored panels that would flutter in the breeze. But cost constraints and other worries led the city to reduce its size, then scrap its colored patinas, then freeze its freedom to move.

What remained was not at all what Predock had envisioned--or what anyone really wanted.

To his credit, and despite the city attorney's fears that further tampering with the work could leave the city open to litigation, Predock has consistently maintained that all he wants is a happy client. Although Predock himself has not publicly commented on the Behr proposal, his associate, David Friend, expressed the architect's approval if not enthusiasm.

"It's a heck of a lot better than a lot of other silly proposals over the years," Friend said.

Adding the oak branch sculpture could cost as much as $100,000 beyond the $75,000 the city has already budgeted to add a sign. As much as we like the Behr proposal, we have a hard time considering this a top budget priority.

A better way to fund such a highly visible community landmark would be to use the Civic Arts Plaza for a series of fund-raising benefit shows by community and national performers.

May we suggest the Oak Ridge Boys?

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