City to finally protect historic Centre Street Bridge lions
By JASON MARKUSOFF, Calgary Herald September 19, 2012
After years of rain, snow, wind and neglect in a city storage yard, the 1916 Centre Street Bridge lions will get a covered shelter this fall as the city determines what their future holds.
Weather, moisture and age have further deteriorated the three statues since they were moved from the bridge to a storage yard in 1999 — in such poor condition that their heads could come off if moved again, says a structural assessment obtained by the Herald.
But the report concludes they can be repaired and displayed again. An internal memo to the city’s public art staff says saving the trio of fragile sculptures will cost around $625,000, which is less than figures as high as $1 million cited by other Calgary officials. Council may get to make a decision by spring.
While their replacements sit proudly on the bridge and one restored feline guards City Hall, the three other original statues have sat in open-air storage across the street from the Herald office’s parking lot, covered only by plastic tarpaulins that have been prone to fraying or coming off.
The city has had repeated recommendations the lions be properly guarded from moisture, most lately in the March that urged a covered and ventilated covering as an “immediate measure.”
With some money from the public art reserve, city staff are now working to obey that recommendation, with “something that is more permanent than a Quonset, tent-style thing,” said Rachael Seupersad, the city’s public art superintendent.
“We would hope to get that in place relatively quickly, hopefully before the snow flies.”
The lions are stored far from where Seupersad’s staff works, and she said they lack resources to regularly check up on all the art pieces and artifacts the city holds throughout Calgary. Between 1999 and 2010, the tarps were never replaced until a new employee joined the art team and became their de facto steward.
In February, the Herald discovered all three lions caked in snow after their tarps had come off, before yard workers covered them with new, blue plastic sheets. In late August, all of one lion’s head and parts of the other two poked out through disintegrated tarps, and after a Herald blog post about it they got fresh tarps again.
A week afterward, the city issued a blog post of its own about the lions, saying the “icons are public treasures” and would be discussed by heritage and public art groups later this year.
“We don’t treat them like they’re very great. It’s embarrassing,” said Ald. Druh Farrell. She is looking forward to hearing the proposed ideas for their future.
“In the meantime, we’re being told about their condition by Herald reporters, who seem to be caring more about them than we do.”
The felines are the namesake for the city’s annual Lion Awards, which celebrate heritage preservation.
“I can’t imagine a more important symbol of our heritage,” Farrell said.
Council decided early last decade that at least two of the three lions should be restored and displayed, but there were no non-profit or private groups interested in hosting them. (Aldermen haven’t formally discussed the lions since then.) So the 1916 beasts have remained in limbo — both in the yard and in between the opinions of various city groups. The heritage authority wants them preserved, while the Public Art Board has deemed them mere concrete structures that should be auctioned off or trashed if there are no takers.
Seupersad said the felines’ fate will be considered in conversations with advocates and experts in both heritage and public art, in monthly meetings this fall. They will report to council this spring, and now with the city-commissioned report know that restoring the old lions is an option, she said.
In March, the long-awaited study came in from the Chicago analysts who first studied the statues in 1999, when the bridge underwent massive repairs.
The new report says the most “viable” option is to repair the lions and display them somewhere that’s covered but outdoors, like their restored cousin sitting beneath a concrete canopy at City Hall.
If the repair to cracks and the coating is done on another site, there’s still some work needed to protect the fragile heads from becoming dislodged.
“Although not recommended, should it unfortunately be decided to cease efforts to preserve the lions (i.e. provide no protection and repair) and allow them to deteriorate, then we recommend that consideration be given to preparing accurate documentation . . . to record the history, construction and appearance of the lions for the future,” the Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates report states.
While it’s unclear where the city would find $625,000 or the final costs of restoring the lions, council is on the verge of approving $3.5 million for art that complements the west LRT line
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Editorial: Call of the wild spending
City shouldn't waste $625,000 restoring concrete lions
Calgary Herald September 24, 2012
We don't want to be catty, but it seems there's no such thing as a measured city response to dealing with the remaining lion sculptures that once adorned the Centre Street Bridge. After allowing them to languish for more than a decade in a storage yard, the recommended solution now is a $625,000 publicly funded restoration.
Surely the city can deal with the three concrete figures without spending such a hefty sum, which granted, is less than the $1 million other officials have estimated. The fact is one of the original lions has already been preserved and it can be observed by Calgarians outside City Hall, where it's protected from the elements by an overhang. If Calgarians don't want to make the trip down Macleod Trail to the public building, they can drive over the bridge it-self and spot the four replacements fashioned from a mould made from the original 1916 sentinels.
"We don't treat them like they're very great. It's embarrassing," says Ald. Druh Farrell, who says she is looking forward to hearing proposals that ensure the trio will be around for many years to come.
The big cats are in increasingly poor condition. Tarpaulins covering the lions were never replaced between 1999, when they arrived in the storage yard, and 2010, when a new employee joined the art team and began showing a greater interest in the relics.
In February of this year, the lions were spotted covered in snow after the tarps had blown off again. And late last month, one lion's head and parts of the other two could be seen poking through tired plastic covers.
That the lions have been treated shabbily is regrettable, but that doesn't mean it's time to throw a lot of taxpayers' money at their restoration. It was only weeks ago, after all, that an old city-owned air-plane that had been rotting away in a warehouse was sent to Nanton to be restored at a cost of $800,000 of Calgary taxpayers' money. The city needs to get a firmer grip on its priorities.
It's not as though the lions were created from marble at the hands of Michaelangelo or some other Renaissance artist. So while the city's heritage authority wants them pre-served, the public art board has classed them as concrete structures that should be auctioned off, or trashed if there are no takers.
In addition to the $625,000 restoration, there's also the cost of a temporary storage facility, which would ideally be ventilated to keep the delicate felines out of the elements. All in all, the lions' reformation is an ill-considered project that's bound to get more costly at a time when the city is fighting to restrain tax increases and telling senior levels of government that it needs a new framework to fund essential services to Calgarians.
The city should reject a publicly funded makeover and in-stead immediately seek private sector partners one last time who are prepared to pony up some cash and let the lions hold their heads high. And if no one comes forward to help, well, like the art board recommended, throw them to the lions.
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