Concrete cottontails invade park
Near a busy corner in Newport Beach, 14 giant concrete rabbits sit on their haunches, poofy tails poking out behind them, long ears perking straight up. They form a circle, facing inward, and stare at each other through painted pastel eyes.
It’s an assembly that has befuddled Newport Beach residents and visitors alike, earning the nickname “Bunnyhenge” because of the resemblance both in shape and mystery to the English monument.
“What’s up with those bunnies?” is a common question posed to city employees, said Newport city spokeswoman Tara Finnigan.
Part of a newly landscaped Civic Center and park, the concrete cottontails are not meant to be art. Newport Beach city staff insist they are intended for children.
“I love them!” affirmed a 6-and-a-half-year-old named Brady, peering from behind her mother, Abbie Russell, at the Civic Center park Wednesday morning.
But some in Newport Beach wish they never had to see the one-of-a-kind playthings.
The city paid just over $221,000 for the almost 4-foot-tall sculptures, plus a pair of 8-foot rabbits, one of which stands guard near the library and the other of which looks out from a post closer to the Civic Center.
An Arizona-based company produced the sculptures at the behest of PWP Landscape Architecture, a firm in Berkeley that designed the park with input from the city.
Such a commission exemplifies a government that is out of touch with what many local parents want for their kids, said Eric Longabardi, a journalist who grew up in the area and moderates a comedic Facebook page, “Newport Bunny Beach.”
Cuts to popular family programs in the city, such as the Winter Wonderland event, further amplify aggravation over the bunny decision, he said.
“Most of the old-timers, if you talk to them, they think it’s the biggest abomination,” he said.
High on the list of complaints is the choice of animal. If statues were necessary in the coastal town’s new park, why not pick a dolphin or a surfer?
Designers wished to select animals native to the park surroundings, explained Adam Greenspan, a senior design partner at PWP Landscape Architecture.
They considered quails, lizards and salamanders before they agreed upon the cottontail.
“They look like Easter bunnies to me,” said Aaron Potter, who volunteered at the park Wednesday to help identify invasive plants. “They don’t look like any actual living rabbit.”
The bunnies hark back to an “Alice in Wonderland” project that the design firm — which later worked on the national 9/11 memorial — completed decades ago in New York’s Central Park. There, children can clamber around a bronze White Rabbit.
In Newport Beach, park planners hoped the whimsical bunnies would urge visitors along the winding park paths and into the landscaping, Greenspan explained.
“If people weren’t asking about them, or weren’t excited or troubled about them enough to think about them more, maybe the park wouldn’t be getting as much attention or use,” he said.
They may not be a conventional swing set or sand pit, but the bunnies constantly attract kids and adults who love visiting and taking pictures with them, said Laura Detweiler, the city’s director of senior and recreational services.
Photos posted online bear witness to her statement. In one, a girl stands on the feet of one of the giant bunnies, her head resting under its chin. In another, adults clad in Halloween costumes pose for a snapshot.
Still more images include the bunnies wearing purple ribbons for Alzheimer’s awareness and anonymously donated felt scarves for the wintertime.
“It seems kind of weird, right?” said Larry Tenney, a resident of Huntington Beach and a public relations consultant who works on some Newport city projects.
Tenney came to believe in the attraction of the bunnies upon visiting them himself.
“When you think about it,” he continued, “it really was kind of a stroke of genius.”
On Wednesday, Sally Habelow of Anaheim Hills and Sondra Scofield of Torrance made a pitstop on their way to Fashion Island to investigate the rabbits.
They had noticed the sculptures before and aimed to find out their purpose.
“We thought it was so odd,” Scofield began.
“And we wanted to see what the significance of them was,” Habelow continued, “but so far we haven’t found one.”
The nearby informational sign about wetlands makes no mention of rabbits. No other signage exists.
The two snapped photos with the mega bunny, promised soon to post them to Facebook and continued on to “Bunnyhenge.” Gazing out at the circle of bunnies, they doubted that anyone would enjoy a picnic lunch nearby.
“Oh my, I think this is hilarious, I really do,” Habelow said.
Scofield went to sit on an awaiting bunny’s back.
“It works,” she said, cautiously lifting her feet off the ground. “You can sit on it OK, but it’s kind of like now what?”