340-ton rock ready to roll on $1.5 million trip to LA art museum

Jun 21 2011 - 4:11pm

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Stephen Vander Hart, co-owner of Stone Valley Materials, takes the measure of a 340-ton boulder that will be hauled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for an exhibit. The move will cost million, Vander Hart said. (SHNS photo by Mark Zaleski / The Press-Enterprise)
Stephen Vander Hart, co-owner of Stone Valley Materials, takes the measure of a 340-ton boulder that will be hauled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for an exhibit. The move will cost million, Vander Hart said. (SHNS photo by Mark Zaleski / The Press-Enterprise)

A 340-ton boulder that has come to be known simply as "the rock" is being readied for an epic, nine-day move to a Los Angeles museum, requiring a specially built trailer and clearances from utilities and cities along the route.

On Aug. 5, the solid piece of granite will be loaded onto a 200-foot trailer with 200 wheels and hauled from a Riverside, Calif., quarry to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

At 21 feet in height and 680,000 pounds, the load is too tall and too heavy to go by freeway, so it will be driven on city streets at a rate of about 7 miles per day. The cost of the move: $1.5 million, according to quarry co-owner Stephen Vander Hart.

In Los Angeles, the monolith will become the centerpiece of Levitated Mass, a new permanent exhibit by earth artist Michael Heizer. The boulder will be installed above a trench that descends 15 feet below ground, giving the illusion that it is floating.

As for those at the rock's current home, Stone Valley Materials Inc., they're happy to see it go. They inherited the boulder from the previous owners in January 2010.

"We moved in ... and that was a big condition: Whatever you do, don't hurt the rock. We said, 'What rock's that?' 'The big rock,' " Vander Hart said. "We've been working around it ever since then."

The artist found the garage-size boulder in 2006, though details about his discovery are unclear. Heizer reportedly bought it for $120,000 from the quarry's former owner, Paul J. Hubbs Construction, and storage has been $100 a month, Vander Hart said.

Hubbs' officials did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Heizer is known for his 1969-'70 work Double Negative, in which he had 240,000 tons of rock moved to create ramps at Mormon Mesa in remote southeast Nevada. Since 1972, the media-shy artist has been working on City, an installation near his home in Hiko, Nev., about 110 miles north of Las Vegas. Museum officials said it would not be possible to contact Heizer.

Heizer's new work, Levitated Mass, is being compared to the cultural tradition of the Egyptian pyramids.

Vander Hart recalled a conversation with museum direct Michael Govan, who said, "Imagine 400 years from now, that civilization will come to see this piece of granite and just wonder, 'What's it doing here? Where did it come from? How did they move it with the existing technology?' He said every great civilization has moved a monolith like this as a form of expression," Vander Hart said

The quarry's heavy-equipment operators have watched with interest the parade of media and museum officials who have visited the rock. Some of the museum officials have miniature replicas of it on their desks, he said.

X-rays were taken to make sure the granite is solid, Vander Hart said. Museum officials are worried about a small crack across the top and will use a special glue to bind it. They plan to visit the quarry in a couple of weeks to try out the technology on some smaller rocks, he said.

In rock talk, this boulder was a mistake. Quarry workers prefer their materials much smaller, said Chris Gutierrez, a heavy-equipment operator.

The rock was blasted off the craggy stone face of a hillside as part of routine work to produce concrete aggregate and sand. It landed at the base of the hillside and has been moved three times by bulldozers, loaders and a gantry crane to keep it safe.

"It's been in the way every day," Gutierrez said.

But not for much longer.

Emmert International, a heavy-haul transportation company near Portland, Ore., is building the trailer and has gotten clearances from cities along the 60-mile route, where utility lines will have to be removed. In the past, Emmert has moved historic brick buildings, 300-ton oil refinery coke drums and a 413-ton electrical generator, according to news reports.

An Emmert spokesman did not return telephone messages about the project.

Museum officials declined to discuss money but emphasized that all costs are covered by private donations. The exhibit is expected to open for view in mid-November.

(Email reporter Janet Zimmerman at jzimmerman@PE.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)

 

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