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Sausalito’s Sea Lion

Sausalito’s Sea Lion
By George Hoffman
The following column is excerpted from George Hoffman’s 1976 book “Saucelito-$au$alito  - Legends and tales of a changing town.”
That bronze sculptured sea lion sitting proud and defiant off shore at Hearst point, was put permanently in place in 1966. But it has a history of several years before that, when its counterpart existed in concrete and haydite.
Al Sybrian is the sculptor responsible for the Sea Lion. Al was well known in Sausalito for his drawings, stone walls, drinking and conversation. He was good in all, and often excelled in the latter two. He could drop in to say hello of an afternoon and make his goodbyes five days later. The walls he built were works of art. Al lived in a small house directly beneath the old Hearst wall, which is half way between Ondine Restaurant and Valhalla. From his house he could see sea lions on the rocks not over a hundred feet away. He sketched them endlessly. One day in 1957 he talked to a neighbor, Mr. Gratama, and said he would like to make a sculpture of a sea lion to be placed or waterfront, but he had no money for materials.
“How much will it take?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a hundred dollars.”
Mr. Gratama talked to Julie Sweet [and other neighbors]. Together they put up the money. Al set to work immediately. The half finished wall he was working on would have to wait. When Al was inspired his concentration never wavered. Within three months he had finished. He notified his benefactors and they came to see what he had done. They were amazed. Instantly they recognized it as being a good work of art. They all knew of Al’s ability, but now they were looking at an accomplishment that just a short time before was only a promise. The sculpture stood four feet high, molded in concrete with the slight pink color from haydite. The lines were graceful, yet pronounced, and the turn of the head was a position familiar to everyone who has ever watched sea lions. The party exclaimed profusely, and like thousands since, could not keep their hands off of it. It had that appeal.
The statue sat around for a few months while Al and his benefactors wondered what to do with it, where best to display it. The most obvious spot was overlooked for a long time until [Lawrence] Steese happened by.
“Public land, on the waterfront,” he said. “Right outside your door. On top of that old manhole cover down there. It gets covered up during high tides, so we can get it out there during a low one. Perfect place. When do you want to do it?”
“During the next low tide,” said Al.
A phone call or two got enough friends to carry the sea lion down the rocky beach and put her in place. It was 1 a.m. when they accomplished the task. The next morning a traffic jam occurred on Bridgeway as commuters stopped to view the new occupant of the waterfront.
For eight years she sat there unperturbed, indomitable, giving joy and satisfaction to viewers. Her grace and silence became a trademark. Homeward bound weary commuters got a lift when viewing her, children played on her back, thousands of pictures were taken of her by tourists and townspeople. She was growing as popular as Denmark’s Little Mermaid. But the sea lion wasn’t made of good material. High tides, winds, battering logs and debris during winter storms had been beating against her unprotected sides, taking their toll. The sea lion was breaking up. Cracks in the concrete grew larger, pieces were falling off.
Al looked the sculpture over one day and announced was going to destroy it. As the creator he had the right to do it, and his heart told him he must.
Enid Foster, the grand dame of Sausalito artists, heard about it and knowing Al, she knew he would do it. She immediately wrote the city council asking for funds to cast the statue in bronze. An outcry from many residents was heard, so the council, in their charitable wisdom, agreed to contribute $100 and made a plea that the citizens get behind the effort to make it a community project. The job would cost $3,000, of which the artist would get $700. That was a fair price, for there was much work to do. Al would have to make a mold from what was left of the statue.
Weeks went by. A few contributions trickled in, mainly from artists. Sybrian had moved the original sculpture to San Francisco in the expectation that funds would come in.  He was getting discouraged. Then the Sausalito Foundation put up the money and the project was completed.
So in 1966 a bronze sea lion was placed in her present position.
Al Sybrian wasn’t present on the day of official dedication. He was in San Francisco helping Steese install a new vat for Steam Beer. A more important mission.

“Saucelito-$au$alito” is part of the permanent collection of the Historical Society, and can also be checked out from the Sausalito Library.

Sea Lion drawing by Bill Dempster from “Saucelito-$au$alito.”

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