The pod of topiary dolphins in Corona del Mar will soon be new and improved, possibly as early as this fall, following a community board decision this week.
The CdM Business Improvement District board of directors met Thursday morning in a conference room at the Newport Beach Civic Center and discussed replacement options for the school of 12 marine mammal-shaped flora, including commissioning fiberglass statues or a set of fresh foliage.
The dolphins, structured with wire frames that direct the growth of Leyland cypress into jumping and diving poses and are often decked out in holiday décor for all the major occasions, have been swimming along the median at East Coast Highway and Marguerite Avenue for a few decades.
In recent years, residents commented that the dolphins appeared to a bit out of shape.
Overgrown and misshapen, the city approved a replacement project in 2014. Under an outside contractor, the new dolphins were grown in large pots in a city yard. They weren’t quite filling out their frames, so the city took over in 2018.
Placing them in bigger planter boxes and providing nurturing care from a professional staff has really helped, said Newport Beach Management Analyst and Public Information Representative Mary Locey.
It’s surprising how much they have grown since the city took over, CdM Chamber of Commerce President Linda Leonhard commented on Thursday.
The board considered a few options on Thursday, as laid out by Locey: Do nothing right now and wait for the replacement topiary dolphins to grow a bit before transplanting them; move forward with the simple molded fiberglass fabrications of the dolphins, get the concept approved by the city and install the statues; or partner with the City Arts Commission to create a set of dolphin statues.
The new topiaries are growing, but they aren’t quite ready, as there is still “quite a bit” of wire still showing through the sprouting greenery, Locey noted.
“The best thing for them is to plant them in the median and then they will grow faster and better, but visually, they’re not there yet,” Locey said.
Considering the sculpture alternative, if the BID were to partner with the Arts Commission, their process would include finding and selecting an artist to create unique dolphin statues for the project, explained city Administrative Analyst Melanie Franceschini.
“The pieces would be unique to Newport Beach and it would probably open up the scope of what type of design elements, what kind of interpretation of dolphins, would be put out there,” Franceschini said.
It would likely take longer and cost a bit more as well, she added.
Board members seemed to be leaning away from the sculptures and sticking with the traditional topiaries.
BID member Scott Laidlaw noted some concern that the statues won’t be as unique as the shaped shrubbery. The topiary dolphins are a part of how the village is identified, he noted.
“Stay with what the community is used to,” and loves, Laidlaw said.
If they aren’t going to partner with the Arts Commission and make it a piece of public art, then they should use the new topiaries, Laidlaw commented.
“Personally, I’d be fine with sticking them out there and letting them grow,” although transplanting them right before summer is probably not the best time, Laidlaw commented.
The growing dolphins look worse with the wires showing than the ones that are out there right now that look misshapen, BID Chair Bernie Svalstad noted.
Although onlookers will understand, a few other board members agreed.
“The world understands that you have to be patient with plants,” Laidlaw said. “If somebody sees a topiary and sees the wire, they’ll realize that’s it’s going to mature over time.”
Fellow BID board member Hamid Kianipur agreed with the idea of planting them even if the wires are still showing.
“They’ll grow fast if the environment is right, it won’t take that long to fill them (out),” Kianipur said.
Planted in the median, they will grow faster and better, Locey reiterated.
Laidlaw recommended that they wait until fall, which is a better time to transplant and gives them another few months to grow, and place the new topiaries.
His suggestion was later turned into a motion by fellow BID member Keith Dawson, and received unanimous support from the board.
Leonhard suggested not setting a specific timeframe on the project, it should be determined after reviewing the growth, she added.