In 2010, the head that once sat on a statue memorial for South Bay surfing and lifeguarding icon Tim Kelly went missing. But now, the statue has been restored – head and all.
Hermosa Beach resident Rick Koenig has spent 15 years on the project, an ode that not only pays tribute to Kelly, but also a simpler time in the South Bay.
Koenig’s roots run deep in Hermosa Beach: his great uncle, Ralph Matteson, was a gold miner who planted roots here in 1897 and built, with his father’s help, a bank, theater and hospital in the then-sleepy seaside village.
Koenig, 69, is fourth generation in the beach city, a well-known figure who once served on the city’s Planning Commission and built and designed the Hermosa Beach Historical Society Museum. He served as its president for 13 years.
He was also part of the fundraising group that lobbied to get a new bronze statue made honoring Kelly in the early 2000s.
The original, created in 1965 William D. Maloney , was weathered and falling apart. It was cut into nine pieces to make the bronze casting for the new statue.
After the new statue was created in 2005, the cut up pieces of the original were tossed in the trash.
“I was at the right place and right time, saw the pieces in the dumpster,” Koenig said. “It was a match made in heaven.”
For the last 15 years, he’s been putting the statue back together.
But a decade ago, he noticed the head went missing from where it was stored in the old cafeteria above the museum during construction.
But even without the head, Koenig moved forward with restoring the statue – no easy task. The original framework was rusted and corroded. The wood frame the wave was built on had rotted.
“It was in pretty bad shape,” he said.
And now the project finally has a head after he connected with inventor Reuben Vollmer, who said he could recreate Kelly’s missing noggin using a 3-D printer.
“He went down and took a few pictures and made some scale models,” Koenig said. “Fourteen hours later, I had a life-size, accurate head, which is on the statue now.”
Koenig still has to paint the statue bronze, but said he’s already sad the project is coming to an end.
At his home on Manhattan Avenue, people would stop and watch him work in his yard. “People stopped to watch me grind, a lot of locals would yell: ‘We knew Tim…he was a great guy.’”
Koenig’s yard has other Hermosa Beach memorabilia displayed, including bricks from the Pier Avenue school destroyed in the 1933 earthquake and the original piano bar from the Mermaid.
“I have all kinds of stuff from Hermosa memorabilia, stuff that won’t fit in the museum,” he said. “Everyone in town calls my back yard the second museum.”
The Kelly statue has been a staple in the South Bay for decades. It was first placed on the beach in 1965 where the Chart House is now, near Kelly’s favorite surf break. It was later moved to 1st Street on the strand and then near the pier, where it was for decades before it was replaced with the new bronze statue.
At Koenig’s house, the rebuilt original will sit on a 12-foot pergola with a spotlight to illuminate the statue at night for passerby to marvel.
“It’s an iconic piece that really, in my mind, speaks to a more magical time in our little bit of Bohemia, our little gem on the California coastline,” he said. “I know change is inevitable. But I just want to try and share the lifestyle I grew up in. Anybody who understands it and gets to feel it, and the sense of community we all need, would fall in love with it the way I did, and the same way the people I grew up with did.”
The statue will also be a reminder of when Koenig was a young junior lifeguard, a 13-year-old listening to the direction of the well-known and beloved lifeguard Kelly, who died in a 1964 car accident at the age of 24 while returning from a surf trip to Trestles.
“I’m almost sad it’s done with,” Koenig said. “But it was a great project and I want another one. You have any headless statues, let me know.”