.Rescued, Sausalito sea lion sculpture returns home

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A crowd gathered last week at sunrise to watch the dramatic homecoming of Sausalito’s beloved but accident-prone sea lion sculpture.

Plucked by a crane from the back of a pickup truck on Bridgeway, the newly restored bronze sculpture floated through the air and returned to its rocky nest just off the southern shoreline of Sausalito. 

“The sea lion is a symbol of Sausalito and the spirit of our community,” Mayor Ian Sobieski said as he stood among about 150 spectators. “The sculpture demonstrates how art can be profoundly affecting.”

In January 2023, a strong storm toppled the 1,900-pound sculpture into the bay, and the city removed it from the water for repairs. According to Felicity Kirsch of the nonprofit Sausalito Foundation, that marked the third rescue for the sea lion.

Artist Al Sybrian created the sculpture in 1957. It was originally concrete, a material that didn’t fare well in the sometimes harsh environment. Nine years later, the Sausalito Foundation raised funds to cast the statue in bronze.

Over the next several decades, the sculpture survived the elements and took on a beautiful green patina. But a 2004 winter storm wreaked havoc, knocking the sea lion off its pedestal. The Foundation stepped in again and paid to reseat it.

When the statue ended up in the water last year, the nonprofit enlisted Reason Bradley, a Sausalito native and owner of a marine company, Universal Sonar Mount, to repair it. Bradley and his team used their hi-tech skills to develop a comprehensive restoration plan that should keep the sea lion hale and hearty for the next hundred years. It began with laser scanning the sculpture and generating a digital model.

“Corrosion had been eating away the base of the sea lion for years,” Bradley said. “We approached the project with the concept of protecting the sea lion and creating a whole new base instead of doing a quick patch.”

Let’s geek out for a minute here to understand electrolysis, the main issue the team needed to resolve to keep the statue on its base. Electrolysis occurs when dissimilar metals come into contact with an electrolyte—in this case, the bay water—and the lesser metal corrodes.

The metal tabs connecting the sculpture to its base kept failing. Clearly, the team needed to figure out how to reduce the detrimental effects of electrolysis on the fasteners and the statue.

They tackled the issue in a few ways. The new base comprises a special concrete mix with fiberglass rebar inside, eliminating electrolysis caused by steel rebar. And the new design involved fabricating eight large bronze bolts to connect the base to the sea lion.

“We introduced a way to connect zinc anodes, four-inch wide by 10-inch long replaceable bricks that protect those bolts,” Bradley explained. “The zinc is the only dissimilar metal, and it’s intentionally a lesser noble metal. Now, the current eats the zinc, not the bolts.”

Pretty impressive. The Sausalito Foundation also deserves accolades for raising approximately $50,000 to pay for the innovative restoration and providing Sausalito residents and visitors with at least another century of enjoying the statue.

“Al Sybrian was a great sculptor,” longtime Sausalito resident and former City Council member Peter Van Meter said. “The sea lion is looking to the sky, looking to heaven. It’s optimistic.”

Nikki Silverstein
Nikki Silverstein is an award-winning journalist who has written for the Pacific Sun since 2005. She escaped Florida after college and now lives in Sausalito with her Chiweenie and an assortment of foster dogs. Send news tips to [email protected].

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