Chain Reaction – Santa Monica, California - Atlas Obscura

Chain Reaction

In one Santa Monica parking lot a mushroom cloud made of chains heralds a message of peace. 


Sentiments regarding nuclear warfare tend to run the spectrum from alarmist to vehement, so monuments like Santa Monica’s Chain Reaction which mixes whimsy with its vitriol are a welcome addition to the public landscape.

Erected in 1991, the 26-foot tall work was created by five-time Pulitzer prize winning political cartoonist Paul Conrad, who created sculpture as a sideline. Chain Reaction is a punny, 26-foot sculpture shaped like the rising mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion, save that the whole thing looks to be made of steel chains. In actuality the piece is made of molded fiberglass, concrete, and copper chain links, yet regardless of its materials it still weighs over five tons. The plaque at the foot of the work communicates the important message of the seemingly tongue-in-cheek work:

“This is a statement of peace. May it never become an epitaph.”

In 2012, weather began to erode the towering monolith. City Council proposed removing it because the cost of repairing it was deemed too high. Local activists, many of whom had used the sculpture as the site of peace demonstrations for years, rallied to have it designated as a historical landmark and to raise funds for its repair.

Journalist Lisa Napoli, then an arts reporter at KCRW, wondered how the sculpture had been funded in the first place back in the 90s. When it was revealed that Chain Reaction had been anonymously funded in 1991 with a $250,000 donation by McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc, she decided to write a book about her, which includes a chapter about her intense involvement in the peace movement.  

Chain Reaction was eventually saved, restored, and re-opened surrounded by a peace garden.   

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