Thirty Five years ago a couple came to me and asked, "Can you make a whale?" "Sure", I answered. They were starting a new restaurant in Morro Bay on the Embarcadero and they had the idea of having a whale sculpture in front of the restaurant they were naming "The Whale's Tail". It had to fit in a limited space in front of the building and they wanted the tail of the whale to stick up above and in front of the awning and be as big as would fit the space. It was to be a sperm whale and was also required to have a crab cooking pot in its head.
After much study of whale pictures a clay model of a sperm whale was made and a mock up of the front of the building and the angular space in front. The clay whale was warmed in the sun until it was pliable enough to be shaped so that it curved around and stuck its tail up in line with the awning. Once the posture of the whale was approved in its fit with the area in front of the building, construction of a steel armature was started. Five hundred pounds of assorted rebar scraps were got from McCarthy Steel. Starting with the heaviest steel a rebar foundation shape was made which would support the station frames which were hand bent to the full scale. Starting in the middle of the whale and working towards both ends the body took shape and some longitudinal rebar were added. The tail was made to curve up and twist as a full size copy of the clay model. As the tail progressed the head end had to grow also to keep its balance. The station frames were about a foot apart and the spacing of the longitudinal steel was about three inches. I had both wrists and an arm broken the year before so I was using the process of hand bending all the steel as my physical therapy to restore the strength in my hands and arms.
Once the rebar framework was finished, it was covered with several layers of half inch mesh wire cloth on the inside and out and stitched with binding wire. This construction method is used to make ferro cement boats which were of popular interest at that time. I considered it my practice ferro cement boat. A local glass blower, George Middleton, made the hand made eyes for the whale and I formed the teeth out of porcelain which were fired by the Tollers who were pottery artist. The construction of the whale armature took most of five months and was delivered in January of 1976 and placed in the foundation trenches. The plumbing and other connections were made and the forms for the service tunnel and a ton and a half of concrete was used for the foundation.
Then came a couple of days of team effort to mix and place two tons of Portland Cement plaster. The plaster for the outside was died with carbon black which made for a permanent color that has endured. I bare handed patted and stroked the plaster as it progressed to give it its smooth flowing lines and details. My finger tips were worn thin and pink but the whale was finished before I ran out of skin from the abrasive cement but they were very sore for days. Later the cement slab was poured around the whale and front of the restaurant.
The Whale was supposed to cook crab in a pot installed in its head but when it came time to ask for payment for my artistic labor for the five months it took to create the sculpture. I was offered my expenses and told that I had the privilege of making the whale. Thus with being graced with the privilege of making what became the world famous whale with no other reward, making the whale perform the crab cooking never got done. I kept secrete the engineering with the space age insulation that would have made it possible to withstand the heat of cooking. Others attempted to finish the cooking function but they did not have a clue how to do it so the cooking pot became a flower pot.
The real estate speculators that started the whale's tale sold their restaurant creation within the year and it has since changed owners several more times but it quickly became the most photographed thing in Morro Bay for the last thirty five years. It has been guessed that a million people have had their picture taken in front of that whale. I have heard reports of people all over the earth having pictures of their relatives with the whale. It has certainly been a major boon to the tourism in our county and been a destination to visit. Even local people have their memories of visiting the Whale's Tail and climbing or sitting on that dear sculpture.
After Thirty Five Years the Whale loses its Home
Early this year the Whale's Tail Restaurant lost its lease with the City of Morro Bay and had to relocate to Morro Bay Boulevard in the same block as the movie theater. There was no place for the whale to land at the new location so it was left behind. The new business taking that location although initially interested in continuing with the whale had to get a remodeling permit. The politics of that exposed the project to the requirement to give up two more feet of the front of the property to the widening of the sidewalk to bring it up to the current specification calling for a width of six feet. The sidewalk in front of the business next door to the South was already at six feet while the side walk along the Anchor Park adjacent to the North remains at the original four feet wide. Would the city be widening the sidewalk in front of its park to match? It would only seem fair for what's good for the goose to be also good for the gander, but that's politics.
The whale could not suck in its gut to pull in the one foot it would have intruded into the planned new sidewalk so it had to go. There was many discussions in the city meetings of what to do with the whale. There were a few possible new locations that were considered. The whale would have preferred that the street give up a couple of feet and move the curb so she could continue being the world famous tourist attraction that drew visitors from all over the world and enjoyed the attention and being the most photographed thing in Morro Bay that isn't the rock. The discussions in the meetings were stuck on the liability of the whale in its potiential new locations. In the thirty five years that Morro Bay has enjoyed the whale as a tourist atraction there has not been a liability problem. What the whale has been is an asset to Morro Bay and in fact the whole of San Luis Obispo County has benefited from the whale being a destination for tourist being attracted to the world famous whale.
As the artist that created the whale, I had been concerned over its fate. Periodically I would contact Morro Bay City Government to express my condern. I wanted to keep informed of its status with the new business that took over the property and eventually was given the name of the owners of the nearby Hoffbrau restaurant and bar. At first their intent was to continue alow the whale to continue with them. It was their remodeling permit to turn the location into a new cafe business taking its name as The Anchor Park Cafe inspired by the fisherman's memorial park adjacient to the North, now known as the Anchor Park with its center piece anchor. Several communications kept their awareness of my interest in the whale's fate. Eventually the decision was forced by the reqirement to upgrade the sidewalk from four feet wide to six to match the current standard for handicap access of the cities sidewalks. Finally I got the call that the whale had to move and was planned for the following week. I responded that in the interest of preserving the whale the artist who created the whale should participate in the removal. It was plumbed for water, gas, sewer, and electricty and all those pipes were involved with the whales foundation. They agreed that would be a good idea. Then I said that I have a forklift trailer that could move it. Their next question was, "Do you want it?" "Well, yeah." I answered.
The following monday I showed up with the trailer and this 64 year old man jumped in to volunteer the effort to make sure that the whale was cut out of the cement slab that surrounded it. Taking turns on the jack hammers and doing the detail work removing as much of the slab from the top of its foundation. With the slab removed then the entry tunnel had to be carved away and some of the foundation trimmed to take away some of the weight and make it fit the trailer. By the end of the day the front and back of the foundation were under cut so that lifting cables could be passed under. The whale was ready for a crane to show up the next day. The crane showed up early the next day. I had gathered a lot of random blocks of wood to buffer the whale when it was set on the trailer and had my stronges truck that could pull such a load. When I arived the crane service were just doing some test lifts to make final adjustments on their rigging for the lift. Soon the whale was free of its setting in the earth and swinging so gently over the sidewalk and over the street where I backed the forklift trailer into place. When it was nearly ready to land final adjustments were made to the blocks of wood that were to accept the lumpy bottom of the foundation and distribute the support. Finally in position as the crane was packing up its rigging and readying itself for road travel, while I applied the chains, straps, and binders to secure the whale for travel. We were ready to go. Right away the whale faced the steepest test and had to take the climb up to the higher ground of the rest of the town to leave the Embarcadero. I carefully approached the up sloping road wondering if the load shift on the delicately balanced trailer would leave me enough traction for my truck to pull up the grade. We slowly powered up the up slope and without wheel spin or the feared problems of loosing traction and made it to the top. We had passed the worst climb of the whole trip back into San Luis Obispo.
The whale has since been for the most part staying abord the forklift trailer still bound with chains and parked on Sacramento Drive near the Goodwill Outlet. It has had a few ventures out into the town to wander the streets of San Luis Obispo as a recent addition to the homeless community. A web site was obtained with the name homelesswhale.org (whale doesn't like net) to be a place to tell the whales story and be a clearing house for proposals for finding a new location for the whale. In the mean time the whale has been given the task of being 8000 pounds of concrete evidence of the artist's talent for its creation some thirty five years ago and also a demonstration of the ability to move odd heavy objects. Another duty for the whale has been to help promote the campaign of the artist in his second attempt to run for political office seeking the position of Mayor of the City of San Luis Obispo, CA. It has made several visits to the loading zone in front of the Public Library across the street from the San Luis Obispo City Hall, where it had to stay outside while its artist creator, Donald E. Hedrick, attended a few council meetings. The whale was hoping to spend a couple of sessions at the Farmer's Market to introduce itself and its artist creator in the quest to find a new home. The Downtown Association would not cooperate with that in what turned out to be discrimination and unequal treatment of whale and artist. A requirement to put on file proof of a million dollar liability insurance was placed in the way. That request came as a suprise a month after the appllcation for the space was turned in. On checking around other simularly used users of Farmer's Market spaces, it came to light that they did not have such proof of insurance on file and had not been asked to do so. Interesting, but that is another story for another web site. DonForMayor.net.
The whale has also made a special apearance at the grand opening of the town's newest art gallery sharing the location with the newspaper office at Information Press on Sacrament Drive in San Luis Obispo. It sports its banner proclaiming its web site, www.homelesswhale.org (whale doesn't like net) in its plea to anounce its need for a new home as it wanders the streets of San Luis Obispo. It has also been making visits to select loading zones in the downtown on the outskirts of the Farmer's Market on Thursday nights helping promote its quest for a new home and also help support the campaign of its artist creator friend who rescued it from its threatened destruction when it lost its home in Morro Bay. After the election in November the whale will settle into the ongoing task of finding a new home that will honor its reputation as the most photographed thing from Morro Bay, California. There are photographs of people with the whale all over the world and it has also been a dear memory of many of the residents of the whole county who have visited that famous sculpture for years.
Homeless and wandering the streets of San Luis Obispo
Now begins the welcoming of proposals for a new home for this world famous whale sculpture which has inspired concern for the plight of the whales of the world's oceans in their threatened existance. Perhaps it has had a tremendous influence on elevating the peoples awarenes of the troubles man has visited upon all the whales of the world. It has certainly been a good ambasador for that cause and made for fond memories of visits to Morro Bay.
Having been rescued by her friend the artist who created her thirty five years ago and riding around on his forklift trailer, the time has come to invite offers of a new location. There are several factors that need to be considered in her quest for a new home:
- Location, location, location. Weighing heavy on this consideration, the whale is world famous and accustomed to easy access by tourist from all over the world as well as more local of her friends. Especially valued would be a camera friendly location with public access.
- Mission: She has been an ambassador inspiring awareness of the plight of the whales in all of this world's oceans. She recently attended Cal Poly State University for a weekend during a Bioneering Conference where several noted speakers gave talks on conditions in the marine environment. There were some photographs taken to be sure but she was not allowed to stay long enough to be awarded an honorary degree. Educational value is appreciated.
- Conversion to pure sculpture should be considered. Originally the function of cooking crab was planned to be done in a pot in her head. That feature was never finished since on completion of the sculpture phase one, the realtor, developer, speculator that requested the whale be made did not pay the artist for his labors. Instead the artist was told that he had the privilege of making the whale. Since the artist did not get paid for the completion of phase one, phase two of making the cooking pot work did not go forward. Space age materials were to be incorporated in an internal design that would keep the heat away from the concrete sculpture. That speculator creator of the Whale's Tail Restaurant sold the business before the year was out without getting phase two. As the artist, I would be available to remove those commercial aspects of the sculpture and patch those artifact holes and do some other repairs as needed to make the whale a pure sculpture.
- It would be appropriate to give some compensation to the artist for the effort creating the whale, long due, and for coming to the whale's rescue when the politics of Morro Bay threatened its destruction. After orchestrating the moving of the restaurant and exposing the whale to losing its long held location, they in their meetings could not stop arguing the liability of a new location for the whale. The deadline for clearing the way for the planned remodeling of the restaurant came without a new location for the whale. The whale is not a liability but is as the most photographed thing in Morro Bay an asset. The artist at his own expense of labor and time stepped up to the plate to "save the whale" from destruction. More effort is needed to place the whale in a new location and perhaps convert to a pure sculpture and do some repairs.
- The whale was not unwanted and discarded but an asset rescued from a government process gone amuck. Even though made homeless and wandering the streets of San Luis Obispo, she now needs to find an appropriate home where she can be appreciated by more millions of people that would like to make photographic memories of their visit. Her new home should be a destination for many.
Seriously deliberated proposals now invited
The artist creator and now savior of the famous Whale's Tail sculpture can be contacted in San Luis Obispo, California. Efforts will also be made to contact cities and other parties of interest to find an appropriate new home for this world famous sculpture. It must be the right thing to do. You are also invited to visit the artist's personal website at www.revoltingdevelopments.net where the arts page is recommended. That is also a good window on the artist and his abilities.
Donald E. Hedrick, P.O. Box 343, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406, (email prefered) firstname.lastname@example.org, (805) 541-0303