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Artist's Canvas Is 5 Miles of Concrete

Freeways: Waves, birds and dolphins decorate a stretch of the 710 in a first for L.A. County.

July 12, 2002|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is the largest piece of artwork ever displayed in Los Angeles.

But mosaic artist Kerry Zarders' name is nowhere to be seen on the five-mile-long exhibit being dedicated today by state and local officials.

Stylized waves, dolphins, pelicans and schools of fish created by Zarders have been placed on both sides of a new freeway median divider on the Long Beach Freeway between the San Diego Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway.

Transportation administrators say it is the first drive-by art of its type in Los Angeles County. And make no mistake about it: Sandblasted into concrete, it's a permanent exhibition.

"No, I'm not going to sign my name to it," Zarders said, laughing Thursday afternoon as she showed daughter Sophie, 7, the finished work for the first time. "It would look like graffiti. And Caltrans would come by and paint it out right away."

Caltrans officials commissioned the artwork as a way of sprucing up the hard-working Long Beach Freeway, which is heavily used by tourists and by trucks carrying cargo containers from the nearby port. Traffic engineers are spending $16.7 million to rehabilitate a 2 1/2 mile stretch of the 710 Freeway south of its intersection with the 405 Freeway.

Zarders, 45, of Long Beach was recruited by Caltrans through the Public Corporation for the Arts in Long Beach, which has worked with her on local bus-stop beautification projects.

The nautical motif came about after officials rejected an earlier proposal by Zarders for an automotive theme.

"I came up with silhouettes that would represent cars that used this freeway when it first opened in 1952. I had a 1949 Cadillac, a 1950 DeSoto convertible and a 1949 MG-TD sports car. But they said no. There was no way they were going to put any more cars on this freeway."

Caltrans officials say motorists caught in traffic along the roadway that carries 160,000 vehicles a day would probably not appreciate glancing out the window at cars that looked as if they'd been stuck on the 710 for 60 years.

Zarders was paid a $1,600 honorarium for her work by the public arts corporation, said Susan Gray, an administrator with the group. The state spent $200,000 to hire Angeles Steel Co. of Santa Fe Springs to make steel templates, and Western Sandblasting of Santa Ana to emboss the 213 images in the concrete and stain them blue.

Today's 10 a.m. dedication ceremony at Cesar Chavez Park Community Center, 401 Golden Ave., Long Beach, will be presided over by Maria Contreras-Sweet, secretary of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.

Officials say favorable reaction by motorists could prompt the commissioning of more center-divider artwork. In the future, art pieces might be molded in place as the median concrete is poured.

As for Zarders, she is prepared for the day when skids and scrapes mar her art.

"That's OK. There will be tire marks and diesel grime. But that's the function of freeway medians: to keep trucks and cars from jumping to the other side," she said.

"So this is functional art."

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