The Sausalito Sea Lion Statue
Near 400 Bridgeway (it’s a highly liquid piece of real estate!), Sausalito CA 94965
Neighborhood: Bridgeway Promenade.
Sculptor Al Sybrian’s statue of a Sea Lion graces the edge of the Bay in Sausalito and is an enduring symbol of the city. Like the Little Mermaid in Denmark, it draws visitors from all over the world and is surrounded by water at high tide.
Where to see it: Many people drive by the statue without realizing it’s there. It’s located on a rocky outcropping just offshore at high tide (as shown above) and exposed on the rocks at low tide. Go to the spot on the Bridgeway Promenade (see map below) where the road bends just south of The Trident Restaurant. A small stairway leads from the sidewalk down to the lower pathway by the rocks beside the statue. A commemorative plaque is located at the top of the stairs.
This lower sidewalk area by the water, which dates back many years, stretches along much of the Bridgeway Promenade. The forces of nature have made the pathway uneven over time, so there are unintended steps up and down from old pavement to sand, and the path is easier to traverse at low tide and during gentle waves on the Bay. In very high tides, especially when the wind is whipping up the Bay, the pathway as well as the statue are inundated by water.
The Story of the Sea Lion Statue
Al Sybrian, the statue’s creator, was a respected local artist and craftsman, an habitue of The No Name Bar and Smitty’s Bar, and a popular companion and conversationalist. He was best known for his ability to build beautiful stone walls and pathways, themselves referred to as works of art.
This spot where Bridgeway — Sausalito’s main street — curves along San Francisco Bay was at one time called Hearst Point, when William Randolph Hearst once started work on a mansion on the hill overlooking the spot. When the 1890 Sausalito City Council declined to give him the necessary permits he moved south and built Hearst Castle in San Simeon instead. In recent generations the term Hearst Point has fallen out of use.
Sybrian lived nearby, and like many locals liked to watch the sea lions by the rocks. In 1957 he talked some neighbors into putting up the money and he made the original concrete version of the sea lion. The process took three months, but the result — which to me shows an influence from Benjamin Bufano — was a popular success.
It was 1957, and although there were plenty of public regulations Sausalito was simpler than today. After several months of discussion Sybrian and a group of friends set out at 1:00 AM one night and simply carried the sea lion statue about 100 yards from his studio to its present location. The statue was an immediate hit, and created traffic jams on Bridgeway as commuters paused to crane their necks at it. Soon visitors from around the world came to see the sea lion, and compared it to Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid.
Death, Doyennes and Dedication
It turned out that concrete was no match for the waves, wind and weather of the Bay. After eight years the statue started to crack and disintegrate, and Sybrian told everyone in town that as its creator he was going to destroy it to prevent the art work from being seen in such a condition.
Led by well known sculptor and painter Enid Foster, the doyenne of the art community (whose father helped create and pay for the O’Connell Memorial), the local artists started fundraising, but they could only get enough support from the City Council for $100 of the $3,000 it would take to re-cast the sculpture in bronze. When it looked like all might be lost the Sausalito Foundation provided the rest of the money, and the current brass version of the sea lion was placed on the Sausalito waterfront in 1966. The Foundation also paid for a 2004 repair after wave damage that unseated the statue in a violent storm.
Sybrian did not attend the city leaders’ dedication of the new version of the statue. He was helping a friend who ran a brewery in San Francisco to install a new vat.