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Lips locked and bolted down, just in time for Valentine's Day

Love is in the air -- and mounted in the concrete. The “kissing statue” found its permanent home in San Diego, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

The 15,000-pound, 25-foot-tall statue depicting the famous sailor and nurse couple kissing in Times Square arrived in San Diego days before the holiday, after traveling uncovered -- and in one piece -- across the country in a truck from Trenton, N.J.

The “kissing statue” had its final scrub down on Wednesday before its ribbon cutting ceremony on Saturday at 10 a.m. About five couples who were married in World War II will renew their vows on Saturday, 70 years later.

Pat Caughey's landscape architecture and environmental planning firm Wimmer Yamada and Caughey was the lead designer on the project and designed the setting for the sculpture. Architect Don Reeves, who originally brought the sculpture to San Diego, asked Caughey and his firm to join the project.

The lovers’ feet have 32 bolts grounding them to a platform that is surrounded by porous pavers, allowing for storm water management. A plaque in front of the statue recognizes those who donated $100,000 or more, and a “walk of freedom” recognizes those who donated $500 and up. The “walk of freedom” is a concrete walkway with donor names sandblasted into the stone.

The 15,000-pound, 25-foot-tall statue depicting the famous sailor and nurse couple kissing in Times Square arrived in San Diego after traveling in one piece in a truck from Trenton, N.J. Staff photo by Samantha Henry

The statue is the culmination of a project that began in 2011, after the announcement of the removal of the temporary statue was followed by an outcry from the community. Caughey designed the plan for the permanent structure in 2011, but those plans quickly floundered upon the realization that there was no money to fund it.

Last spring, Mac McLaughlin, president and CEO of the USS Midway Museum, set about to raise money to bring the statue back, and within about eight weeks he had raised more than $1 million from the community, which was used for the entire project. As part of a requirement from the Port of San Diego, a fund was set up to support perpetual care of the statue and its setting.

Caughey and his firm worked with Stedman & Dyson as the structural engineer; Syska Hennessy as the electrical engineer; and Snipes Dye Associates as the civil engineer. Prestige Concrete was the general contractor for the project and Graphic Solutions was the graphics consultant. About six months ago, once the funding was secured, the team coordinated an effort to meet this deadline.

The temporary statue was scheduled to stay in San Diego for one year, and three-and-a-half years later it was finally taken away, piece by piece.

The temporary statue was made from the same mold as the now permanent statue, but was built with fiberglass and foam. The permanent fixture is made from bronze and painted with aircraft paint, Caughey said. Both the temporary and permanent sculptures have six layers, but the seams on the permanent statue were welded together and are almost invisible.

“If you ever saw the previous one, it was very nice and of course people fell in love with it. But the quality of this one, with the bronze and aircraft paint … if you look at the details on the hands, it looks like real skin,” Caughey said. “This is Seward Johnson’s claim to fame. He paints his bronzes to be lifelike and he does both life-size and larger than life-size.”

A crane lowers the new statue into place at the San Diego waterfront. Courtesy photo

The setting was designed to accommodate heavy traffic, Caughey said. Couples come out to the statue and imitate the pose and others come just for the view.

“So it’s kind of a mini-park, and it was designed really to take that amount of heavy traffic,” Caughey said.

Bright lights will illuminate the statue, allowing more people to enjoy the sculpture at night, both up close and from the street. The setting also allows for universal access, and someone sitting in a wheelchair is able to touch the woman’s right heel. Benches surround the sculpture, and every aspect of the setting is designed to be durable.

Caughey designed the setting with a gray color scheme.

“I wanted to go with a military, gun-metal gray, the shades of ships,” Caughey said, as he pointed out the charcoal and pewter gray of the porous pavers. “I wanted everything to tie together and be uniform with the military color schemes and I wanted [the sculpture] to stand out.”

Caughey addressed the criticism the sculpture has received in the past as being “bad art.”

“I don’t think it’s art as much as it’s iconic art. I certainly have great respect for the sculptor because he’s done a phenomenal job,” Caughey said. The G Street mall includes memorials such as the Bob Hope sculpture, the World War II and Korean War memorials. “All those memorials around here are all related to the significance of different wars and San Diego as a military town. And that’s what’s important to remember -- this is a very positive way to reflect on all of that history and this is something the community embraced.”

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