Cartoonist Paul Conrad's sculpture of a stylized mushroom cloud intended to convey the dangers of nuclear war may itself be imperiled.
A fence now separates the public from the iconic artwork, titled "Chain Reaction," located in front of the Santa Monica Civic Center pending expert evaluation of its stability after 20 years of exposure to salt air.
The sculpture's fiberglass base, supported by a steel framework, may be deteriorating, causing some of the fasteners that link the copper tubing chains to become loose and expose jagged screws, according to Jessica Cusick, Santa Monica cultural affairs manager.
This is of particular concern to city officials, who claim children play on the sculpture, with some attempting to scale its 26-foot peak.
"We really need to get in there and look under the chain," Cusick said.
City Manager Rod Gould told the LA Times the city will contract an independent structural engineer and conservators to determine the stability of the 5 1/2-ton sculpture.
"We don't know what the costs are going to be, so we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," says Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom.
Conrad, who died in September, spent four years to get the sculpture installed in its current location in 1991.
Not only does it represent the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist's legacy, the sculpture's presence parallels the culture of the city that surrounds it, Bloom said.
"Forty-three percent of the people who live in Santa Monica are somehow involved in the arts," according to Bloom. "So a piece of art like this is important to them."
Tourists visit the area to see the iconic image, a treasured possession for locals.
"It's so awesome," said June Green, a former Santa Monica resident. "It should be respected and revered and taken care of."