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A new eagle lands at museum

July 01, 2009|David Ng

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County finally has its eagle statue back, and it took only 89 years.

When the museum first opened in 1913, a 6-foot eagle statue stood atop the main building entrance, overlooking Exposition Park. But on June 20, 1920, a "rather violent earthquake" caused part of the eagle to break off and crash onto the steps below, according to archival documents. For several months, "part of the broken wing stayed in place, swinging in the wind and terrifying visitors going up the steps." The museum eventually removed the remnants, and the building has remained eagle-less ever since.

On Tuesday, the museum unveiled a new eagle statue, sitting about 50 feet high in the spot where its ill-fated predecessor was perched. At 6 feet tall and with a wingspan of 7 feet, the bird was built from scratch by San Pedro sculptor Mike Hosch.

Photographic evidence of the original eagle is scarce, but the museum has a few black-and-white long-shot photos, which it gave to Hosch so he could replicate the general design. The new eagle, cast at Moonlight Molds in Gardena, is made of terra cotta like the original, but it also has fiber reinforcement and an internal steel skeleton to strengthen it. The bird actually floats a few inches above its perch and is supported by a steel beam welded to the structural frame of the building.

The sculpture took a year and a half to plan and build at a cost of $75,000, said Don Webb, a project manager overseeing the museum's ongoing renovations.

Make that $75,000 and 25 cents: The finishing touch is a U.S. quarter welded to the bird's forehead -- eagle side up, of course.

-- David Ng

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