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Orange County Digest

Newport Beach : Mermaid Returned to Restaurant for $1,000

March 12, 1985|DAN NAKASO

The six-foot-long, Cuban mahogany mermaid stolen from the Crab Cooker restaurant in 1983 was returned Monday in exchange for a $1,000 reward.

An unidentified man called the popular restaurant and fish market last week and said, "I've got the mermaid. I got it from the guys who probably took it," restaurant owner Bob Roubian related. "And he said, 'Do you want it, no questions asked?' "

Roubian, who did not talk to the caller directly, had left instructions with his staff to pay the publicized $1,000 reward for the statue as long as it wasn't "painted or abused."

On Monday, a man delivered the undamaged statue to the restaurant and was given $1,000 in cash. The restaurant employee did not try to trace the man's vehicle because Roubian is not interested in discovering who took the mermaid. "I just wanted it back," he said.

In July, 1983, the statue was stolen from behind the restaurant while it was unattended during lunch hour. At the time, workers were restoring it and were planning to hang it in the restaurant along with the existing wood sculptures, stuffed fish and paintings.

The old finish had just been sanded off, and Roubian was preparing to replace the missing portion of the mermaid's left arm and refinish the entire statue.

But now along with the repairs to the arm, the mermaid must be sanded again because the grain on the unfinished wood has risen from dampness, Roubian said.

"It has to be diligently worked, tenderly with loving care," he said. "It was down to bare wood when it was stolen . . . so now we have to sand again. We'll go back to work on it and finish it up and put it into the dining room, fixed up nicely." By July, the mermaid should be hanging in the restaurant, Roubian said.

Roubian got the statue eight years ago from an "ex-hoofer who was hard up on his luck," Roubian said. The former dancer borrowed $1,400 from Roubian and used the mermaid as collateral. The man told Roubian, "If I'm not back in three months, it's yours," Roubian recalled.

The statue sat in the restaurant's warehouse and Roubian occasionally worked on restoring it. It wasn't until 1983 that Roubian decided the man wasn't coming back and the statue should hang in the restaurant.

With an estimated value of $4,000, the mermaid isn't the most valued work in Roubian's restaurant. It is rivaled by a $7,000 stuffed great white shark, original paintings and other works.

"But it's good," Roubian said.

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