Sun King In Storage: It’s no castle, but a Tacoma repair shop is home for now

The City of Tacoma’s Fleet Operations Headquarters is probably the last place you would expect to find a piece of public art. The sprawling, 75,000-square-foot hangar-like structure is where more than two-dozen City employees service and maintain some 1,200 police cars, garbage trucks, fire engines, and electric vehicles.

For the past two years or so, however, this building on South Pine Street — just off busy South 38th Street and next door to Tacoma Police Department Headquarters — has been home to a three-ton, 15-foot-tall, 22-foot-wide steel frame sculpture wrapped in a silicon bronze skin known as “Sun King.” The piece was created by Corvallis, Ore., sculptor Tom Morandi nearly 40 years ago. It sat near the corner of Broadway and South 13th Street for three decades before it was placed in storage seven years ago to make way for a new piece of public art (see “Sun King Dethroned: Can Tacoma ever appreciate this piece of public art?” Tacoma Daily Index, Feb. 5, 2014; and “A new home for Tacoma’s Sun King?” Tacoma Daily Index, Dec. 3, 2013).

Two months ago, the City of Tacoma began to accept bids on a $25,000 public works project that would take Sun King out of storage and place it in a park located at South 15th Street and Dock Street, near Thea Foss Waterway. The bid deadline expired on Dec. 19. Five contractors submitted bids. An update on the project is expected this month.

Meanwhile, City of Tacoma Arts Administrator Amy McBride and City of Tacoma Fleet Services Manager Fred Chun arranged for a reporter to photograph Sun King in storage. At first glance, the sculpture is much bigger and more imposing than one would gather from old photographs. The tallest and largest of Sun King’s three pieces sits upright and towers over adjacent vehicle service bays. The remaining two pieces rest flat on the ground.

Several years ago, while Sun King sat in storage, the City of Tacoma restored the piece. That responsibility was handed to Brad Bloodgood, a welder who has worked at the City for 14 years.

One interesting restoration task was addressing the corrosion that had occurred beneath the sculpture’s bronze skin as a result of electrolysis.

“What [electrolysis] does is attacks the steel,” Bloodgood explained. “Because [Sun King has] two dissimilar metals — you have the bronze and the steel — it starts basically arcing. There’s a very, very low arc voltage in it, and that dissolves it.” The framework inside the sculpture, such as isolation mounts designed to curb electrolysis, was deteriorated, according to Bloodgood. “There was no drainage in [Sun King] so it sweats inside,” he added. “It gets pretty hot in the sun, so it starts doing a lot of electrolysis inside and it just takes the steel away. We had to replace that and a lot of the superstructure inside — the actual steel that holds it down to the ground.”

Another big challenge?

“Just getting it up in the air,” he recalled. “Rigging it and getting it up so that I could work underneath it, especially because it’s such a large piece.” Bloodgood made a special device that allowed him to hand-rig the sculpture up as high as possible. Then he built a structure strong enough to support the 6,000 pound sculpture. “I was able to climb in and out of it.”

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of Tacoma’s Sun King, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengerssecond-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State; third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; and third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright. His work has appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.