Photos by Brian Addison.
Long Beach sculptor and artist Patrick Vogel was approached in 2007 to do an interesting project: make a bike sculpture. For many Long Beachers, the polished stainless steel sculpture, hanging on the south facing wall of City Hall.
2007 marked the beginning of the end of the golden days of Redevelopment, when we had an arm that dealt with public art alone. Now dissolved, its effects still linger, including the more lasting, tangible components like this sculpture submission for the Amgen Bike Tour that same year.
“We were supposed to go to the City yard and find old bikes and reconstitute the bikes,” Vogel said. “But I had this idea with a penny-farthing—y’know, an entirely stainless-steel penny-farthing bike put on a pedestal. And I submitted it.”
The piece was so well-liked that, rather than just being a part of of the temporary bike tour, he was approached by the City to have it become a permanent installation near the west side of El Dorado Park at Willow and Studebaker.
Sitting there for nearly a year next to a skate park, eager kids and teenagers hopped on the sculpture to imitate riding it. The continual weight and shifting on the piece ultimately led to what Vogel quipped as “a complete destruction of it.”
Long Beach legend Mark Bixby—who tragically passed at the age of 44 in 2011—then approached Vogel to fix the piece.
At the time, Bixby was becoming one of the largest supporters and advocates for bicycling in Long Beach. Fearless but humble, Mark was arguably one of the strongest forces for bicycling in Long Beach: from being a leader in the creation of Long Beach’s Bicycle Master Plan to a founding father of the OG Bike Festival, he wanted to achieve not only greatness, but alter the perception of biking. Though Bixby was perhaps the city’s most ardent advocate for massive infrastructure and organized bicycling policies—we mean massive: from protected bike lanes to wide and far connections in all directions, from re-orientating the street back to people to always assuring that bikes had a positive public image—his fight damn well included how bikes looked within the realm of public art.
“I told Mark sure, bring it to me,” Vogel said, “but the guys at Public Works had already tried to fix it and—with all due respect—they didn’t have the knowledge or talent to do it correctly and just ended up ruining the piece. I ended up throwing the piece down an alley while ranting, ‘Don’t touch my stuff again.’”
The bike is a universal symbol for humans… It’s iconic. It has an honest brand to it that everyone can relate to.
Bixby caught wind of Vogel’s upset and opted for another option: make an entirely new one and give it to the City. Jokingly, Vogel said the deal was on only if he “could bolt the damn thing to City Hall.”
Even more amusing, perhaps, is that Bixby didn’t find Vogel’s comment to be much of a joke. Soon enough, talks with the Powers That Be—ranging from City Manager Pat West to former 2nd District Councilmember Suja Lowenthal to bike guru Charlie Gandy—began to make the idea of “City Hall’s bicycle” more tangible.
“I basically donated the entire piece,” Vogel said. “I mean, I got a little stipend but I have some $35K in that thing: just the processing of that metal alone was $8K. That’s why it doesn’t rust and remains shiny; I put a very particular special coating on it to protect it. As long as no one rips it down, that thing will last forever.”
Vogel’s pieces are prolific throughout Long Beach: the Mark Bixby wave memorial next to the now non-existenct Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool, the sundial in Centennial Park, the train at Orizaba Park, the 9/11 memorial in Signal Hill and Huntington Beach, the vertical stabilizers at Boeing Park… But the bike remains one of his most iconic.
The aesthetic choice of the penny-farthing bicycle was something that Vogel feels is a “universal brand and symbol.”
“Nobody could ever ride that bike—I specifically exaggerated the dimensions to make it cartoonish,” Vogel said. “But everybody knows that symbol. Everybody who looks at that image—it’s kind like the rabbit ears of Playboy: iconic. It has an honest brand to it that relates to everyone.”
As to where the bike will go as the new Civic Center is built is up in the air, but we’re pretty certain that Vogel wants the thing bolted once again to City Hall.
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