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City tries to save Expo ’74 sculpture

Saving ‘dinosaur bone’ will require $15,000

Plans to remove a sculpture created for Expo ’74 have been put on hold while city officials explore options to save it.

Spokane Arts Director Karen Mobley said Tuesday that she is working to raise the $15,000 needed to move and restore the unnamed play sculpture that park officials call “dinosaur bone.” It was created by Washington sculptor Charles W. Smith and is located in a playground on the west side of Riverfront Park.

After the city’s proposal to remove the sculpture was publicized last month, some people and businesses offered to donate money or services to save the piece, Mobley said. So far, she said, about a third of the cost has been offered – enough to indicate that the target could be reached.

“We should give it a fair chance,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll be successful or not.”

Park officials said they wanted to remove the sculpture because of its condition and because it is not an accredited piece of play equipment.

The Park Board voted unanimously last month to remove the work. Since then, Mobley said a local sculptor examined the sculpture and provided her with the $15,000 estimate, which would include moving it, sandblasting it, filling cracks and resurfacing it.

Riverfront Park Manager Craig Butz said officials are considering moving the piece to the eastern part of the park – near the area known as the Boeing Amphitheater.

Smith, a University of Washington professor for more than 40 years, died in 2009. He was one of 15 sculptors chosen by a jury of artists and patrons to create artwork for Expo ’74. The work, which was meant to be climbed on, originally was located on the land that covers the Washington Street tunnel. It was moved to a playground near the YMCA building to make room for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Smith’s son, Owen Smith, said he’s “heartened” that the city is reconsidering the sculpture. Smith, an art history professor at the University of Maine, said in recent decades, cities have been too quick to dispose of architecture and structures that provide links to the past.

“In addition to its artistic value, it’s a legacy piece reminding Spokane of its international event, the ’74 Expo,” Smith said.

Park Director Leroy Eadie said there appeared to be “lots of interest” in keeping the sculpture. He said park officials would like the work moved from the playground so that kids would be less likely to climb on it and to place a sign near it describing its history and potentially warning that it’s no longer considered a play structure.

In 2005, the parents of a 4-year-old girl filed a claim against the city after they said she injured herself after falling on the sculpture. They said the incident resulted in surgery and nearly $5,000 in medical bills. Eadie said the city did not pay any money as a result of the claim.