Moving day for Tacoma's massive Sun King sculpture

After sitting in storage for nearly a decade, Tacoma's Sun King sculpture is on the move today.

After sitting in storage for nearly a decade, Tacoma’s Sun King sculpture is on the move today.

The Tacoma Daily Index was at the City of Tacoma’s Fleet Operations Headquarters this morning to watch contractors move the three massive pieces of the three-ton, 15-foot-tall, 22-foot-wide bronze-and-steel sculpture out of storage and onto flatbed trailers for transport to a public park near South 15th Street and Dock Street along Thea Foss Waterway.

Tom Morandi’s Sun King was installed in downtown Tacoma in 1976 near the corner of Broadway and South 13th Street, just steps from the 25-story, 338-room Sheraton Hotel. Seven years ago, however, Sun King was placed in storage to make way for a new sculpture outside the former Sheraton Hotel, which was stylishly renovated and renamed Hotel Murano. Earlier this year, the City awarded a contract to D & D construction to take Sun King out of storage and put it back on public display.

The Tacoma Daily Index will publish a feature article about the move online Thursday, and in our print edition on Friday. Meanwhile, here are some early photographs from the move. This post will be updated throughout the day with more photographs, as well as interview excerpts with City of Tacoma Arts Administrator Amy McBride and City of Tacoma Public Works Project Engineer Dan Cederlund.

***UPDATE*** Weds., May 21 @ 4:02 p.m. | The Tacoma Daily Index interviewed City of Tacoma Arts Administrator Amy McBride on Wednesday to gather her thoughts on Sun King. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

We considered a couple different locations. Many years ago, I thought perhaps the top of the [South] 19th Street steps at UW Tacoma might have been a good idea, but it didn’t really work with the master planning of the university. Then I thought perhaps down at the end of the other side of Dock Street, where the park was done, but there were plans for that, as well. Then I remember [Tacoma City Councilmember] David Boe had done kind of an ‘envision Tacoma’ series — I think it was before he was on the council. I think it was even ‘pre-Prairie-Line-Trail.’ Having a sculpture walk that kind of connected the museums, a light went on because we own that property. If we own the property, it’s easier to place something, obviously. But it also made sense in the forward thinking of the onset of the Prairie Line Trail and the Museum District, kind of making a connection with a signature piece. That’s kind of how we came to [the park].

I think plenty of people remember because Tacomans have long memories. But so much has changed since then. The same people that have the memory of it write me hand-written letters asking why it hasn’t been reinstalled yet. I think there are still a lot of people out there who want to see it. It’s a public asset. It needs to be in public. I also think it’s a new day. If we were to commission a monumental piece of this scale and size, we wouldn’t be able to afford it. It just couldn’t even happen now. I also think being in the new location with some air around it, some greenspace, it will be really nice for it, and put it in a new light, as well.

The Hotel Murano had plans for their frontage and the redevelopment of their streetscape that didn’t include [Sun King]. That happens a lot. With public art, if the site changes drastically, sometimes we have to deaccession a piece. I’m just grateful that, although it’s taken seven years, we are able to re-install it, finally. Because sometimes the loss of a site means the piece goes away. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

I think it needs greenery around it. Also, with the cultural district and the connection it’s going to make with the Prairie Line Trail coming through and the museums. That whole waterway is going to be changing in the future, too. Right now, it’s sort of in a transition point, but it’s a transition toward more activity — and more vibrant pedestrian activity. I think it will be a nice anchor down there. I took it for granted when I walked past it all the time outside the Sheraton. It was kind of this big thing I couldn’t get around. As I become more intimate with it, whether you look at it and say, ‘Oh, I know what it is’ or ‘I like it or not,’ I can’t imagine that you can’t appreciate what it must take to make those compound curves. I think it’s majestic. If nothing else, people will say, ‘Hey, what’s that thing down there?’ and go explore and see what it is. Even if they scratch their head, that’s a good thing.

It’s abstract. One thing to know, as well, is that once it is installed, we’re going to have it cleaned and waxed. The poor thing has been in storage. It’s all dusty. I think when it’s really in the light and the sun, and you can see the facets of it, it’s a beautiful piece. People will come upon it and they will have their own interpretation. Everybody doesn’t like everything. But there are plenty of people out there who value monumental sculptures. As far as bronze goes, to fabricate something this intricately, it’s amazing.

***UPDATE*** Weds., May 21 @ 5:56 p.m. | Here are some photos from the Sun King park installation this afternoon:

***UPDATE*** Thurs., May 22 @ 8:15 a.m. | Here are some photos taken Thursday morning following the Sun King park installation:

***UPDATE*** Thurs., May 22 @ 2:45 p.m. | The Tacoma Daily Index interviewed City of Tacoma Public Works Project Engineer Dan Cederlund on Wednesday to gather his thoughts on the design work associated with putting Sun King back on public display. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

Originally, the base was set down on a concrete footing and then a four-inch sidewalk was poured around it. The sidewalk was actually higher than the base, so the inside of it leaks. There’s actually an access hole where water drips in when it rains a little bit. You get a couple cups of water inside Sun King every time it rains. When they mounted it that way years ago, it pooled water inside. It took months to get rid of because it had to steam out through tiny cracks. So from October to July, there was water inside Sun King and it rotted out the base. Also, the steam that was generated from the water rusted all the metal that was inside of Sun King. One of the things we have designed are drain holes, which you will never see because they are right in the middle [of the concrete foundation]. They drop into a dry well, which is just a big sand pit that is a couple feet deep. So any water that gets in there will drop down into a drain hole. We did a lot [of design work] for ventilation and drainage so there is no more deterioration.

It’s sitting on the waterfront. Even though it’s blocked by an onramp, we designed it for a wind load [similar to] a hurricane. Huge plates hold Sun King down. The base is only eight inches wide, and Sun King is 12 feet tall and four feet wide. So you have a 12-foot-by-four-foot “sail” that’s sitting on a narrow base. When the wind hits it, it’s real “tippy.” So we designed it so that if the onramp ever went away and Sun King had complete exposure for five miles of open water, it could [withstand] a 60 or 70 mile per hour gust. So getting it down secure and having it breathe at the same time are really important.

It’s made out of silicon bronze, which is a really inert material. It’s what people who build ships use a lot because they are in a saltwater environment—the most corrosive environment you can be in—so it doesn’t corrode. It holds up really well. There are other types of bronze that react much more to acids in rain. The long-term maintenance shouldn’t be much at all.

I’ve grown attached to it. I feel like this is my baby. If something goes wrong with this project, it’s going to reflect on me. I’ve put my arms around it, so to speak, and have said, “I’m going to take care of you. I’m going to get you there.”

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

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