Between 1976 and 2008 a bronze behemoth of a sculpture stood proud outside the old Sheraton Hotel in Broadway Plaza. The masterpiece - three tons and 21 feet of angular modernism - was the “Sun King” by Oregon artist Thomas Morandi. In 2008 the “Sun King” went into a long period of eclipse. It has been tucked away in a storage facility while a new site for the piece has been deliberated.
The Tacoma Arts Commission recently decided to re-site the grand sculpture at a pleasant, grassy pocket park on Dock Street where South 15th Street gently spirals down from its railroad overpass.
The “Sun King” is a large abstraction of sweeping angles and hard-edged curves that is meant to play a visual shifting of shadows as the sun makes its procession across the sky each day. Naturalistic elements such as deer and trees are suggested in its forms.
When it was placed in front of the Sheraton Hotel in the 1970s “Sun King” was part of a sequence of geometric, modernist sculptures strewn along Broadway. Others include the boxy fountain at 11th and Broadway and Paul Clinton’s “Fish Ladder.” The “Sun King’s” arrival, however, was not without controversy. The general public does not always love monumental abstract sculpture. “Sun King” arrived to a clamor of public criticism. Over time, however, the piece came to be seen by many as a revered and venerable landmark and its 2008 removal from public view was duly noted.
The sculpture was removed as part of the transformation of the dowdy Sheraton Hotel into the glitzy new Hotel Murano. “Sun King” did not jive with the Murano having branded itself as a glass-themed establishment. The designers of the Murano brought in Greek artist Costos Varotsos to build “Orizon,” the giant glass “J” that is now strapped to the building. Unwanted by the Murano, “Sun King” was carted off and stuck in storage while its fate was decided upon.
In 1976, young Morandi was at the beginning of what has blossomed into an illustrious career. “Sun King” was among the first of his big public art commissions. He has gone on to complete numerous public sculptures and exhibitions and he is currently a professor of art, emeritus at Oregon State University.
Since the removal of the sculpture from Broadway Plaza, the Tacoma Arts Commission, under the able leadership of Amy McBride, has been looking for a new site for “Sun King” to reside, from whence it can preside over its solar domain. Locations such as Thea’s Park, the Thea Foss Esplanade, the Ruston Way waterfront and the Prairie Line Trail (near the art museum) have been discussed. McBride once suggested setting the “Sun King” at the top of the grand staircase on the UWT campus but the idea was shot down.
In the end it was decided to locate Morandi’s early masterpiece in the grassy area along Dock Street. This location will allow viewers to see the piece from multiple angles including from above. It will be visible to train passengers passing through town. The location will allow “Sun King” to anchor a walking tour from downtown to Dock street with proximity to the nearby museums. In the end this may be a better situation for “Sun King” than its Sheraton Hotel residence of more than 30 years. There the piece was sandwiched between the street and the building and it was difficult to step back and get a good look at it.
While there is not yet a specific date for the placement of the sculpture in its new home, we may look forward to seeing it again in the near future. The work needs to have its patina redone and there needs to be a foundation made for the sculpture to stand upon. The evergreen tree currently in the pocket park will not be disturbed. Once again the “Sun King” will stand bright and resume holding court in our civic environment.