Neighbors save sculpture from demolition

For 40 years, on a piece of land located on the corner of Southwest 24th Avenue, Spring Garden Street and Barbur Boulevard in Multnomah, there was an abstract sculpture made entirely of concrete. It’s gone now, but thanks to the efforts of neighbor Sharon Bronzan, it hasn’t been demolished — just relocated.Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Multnomah neighbor Sharon Bronzan, with 'Abstract,' the concrete sculpture by artist Harold Balazs that she saved from demolition and arranged to have moved to a sculpture garden at Clackamas Community College.

Spokane, Wash. artist Harold Balazs brought the sculpture, a twisting, three-dimensional gray edifice, into being in 1974 — though it wasn’t credited. The property that played host to it, located at 8420 SW 24th Ave., was for a long time the site of a Key Bank. For the past 14 years, that plat was owned by Fred Meyer Stores Inc. However, in May, the company made moves to sell it.

It was around this time that Bronzan, a former art teacher at Portland Community College’s Sylvania campus and longtime admirer of the sculpture, happened to look up the plat’s address on the website, learned of the pending sale and decided to do something about it.

“It’s not very often that in suburbia, corporate companies have commissioned works of art for their courtyard,” she said. “I mean, you just don’t that very often, and it just seemed rather special that Key Bank had done that.”

The first step was for Bronzan to find out just who the creator of the piece was. Some strategic Internet searching led her to the Smithsonian website, where she found an online card identifying it as one of many outdoor sculptures in the United States.

“I think there’s’ something about it that is kind of almost ancient,” Bronzan said. “It reminds me of Mayan sculpture in Mexico; it reminds me of Asian sculpture; it reminds me of Celtic sculpture. So there’s something kind of universal about the forms. It almost looks like puzzle pieces, but they’re not, it’s abstract; the name of the piece is ‘Abstract.’”

Upon receiving confirmation from the Regional Arts & Culture Council that the sculpture was slated for demolition, and getting permission from Fred Meyer to remove it, Bronzan approached the museum at Balazs’ alma mater, Washington State University.

“I think all the way along, the goal was to save the sculpture, and then when Fred Meyer graciously said, ‘You know, why don’t you find a new home for it,’ somehow, it was like the baton was being passed,” Bronzan said. “And so to totally ignore that just didn’t seem right.”

Ultimately, WSU was unable to take the sculpture. Then Bronzan called her former PCC colleague and good friend Rick True, who was working on a sculpture garden at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City. True expressed an interest in acquiring the piece, and so on Aug. 15, he, Bronzan, their fellow former PCC-Sylvania art instructor Bob Dozono, sculptor Ben Dye and Bronzan’s friend Lori Rose met to remove the sculpture from its current site and transport it to its new home.

“Rick had a flatbed …attached to his pickup truck, and so did Ben Dye; he had a flatbed truck with a crane,” Bronzan said. “The actual sculpture was created in two parts, so the crane just kind of hovered over the sculpture and they used all this strapping and then just pulled the top piece off and loaded it onto Rick’s flatbed truck, and then they basically did the same thing with the bottom half.

“There was a lot of tension, because we didn't know, after 40 years, how well the piece would stay together. But, it did.”

At the time, Bronzan said, she was not fully conscious of the fact that she was spearheading any type of activist campaign, much less that the campaign might be unsuccessful. And in hindsight, she said, that seemed to work to her advantage.

“I think that naiveté was involved,” she said, laughing. “Naiveté turned out to be a good thing.”

Robert Frost once wrote, “Nothing gold can stay.” Maybe nothing concrete can stay, either. But now Bronzan and her cohort have proven that with passion, perseverance and cooperation, it does not have to be lost.

By Drew Dakessian
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