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Imperial Beach Eagle & Journal Flag

Dinosaur Discovered In Imperial Beach
by Nina Mcdonald

Tracy Kelly puts the finishing touches on the rebar and mesh infrastructure of his Dinosaurous sculpture, a 22-foot-long sculpture that will be installed at Glen Abbey Memorial Park in Chula Vista on Memorial Day weekend. The sculpture is a tribute to a 16-year-old Bonita artist interred at the cemetery. Photo courtesy of Kelly Tracy
Scotland has Nessie, Bigfoot haunts the hills of the Pacific Northwest and now Imperial Beach is home to its very own dinosaur, but only for another month or so. The nine and a half-foot-tall and 22-foot-long “Dinosaurous,” currently housed in artist Kelly Tracy's studio will find its final resting place at Glen Abbey Memorial Park & Mortuary sometime in May, where it will be permanently installed in the park's Land of Nod Infants Cemetery. An unusual adornment for a cemetery? Not according to Tracy who was commissioned by Glen Abbey to create the huge reptile.

“A cemetery is not exactly the most cheerful place to be. This will be a happy distraction. It's not supposed to be a jungle gym, but I anticipate that kids are going to climb on it. This is not one of these you can't touch it pieces of art. I want people to touch it and play on it,” said Tracy. “It's very sturdy.”

However, there is more to the story than just Tracy's desire to contribute a whimsical sculpture for a somber setting. The creature that is currently undergoing a final sanding is the end product of a long and elaborate tale that is intimately tied to Bonita's history.

In 1959 a 16-year old Bonita teenager named Jerry Gauss created three dinosaurs out of chicken wire, electrical conduit and cement as an anniversary gift for his parents. He named them Glarfs. The blue one, which he called Rangui, was modeled after a tyrannosaurus rex. The yellow one which looked like a brontosaurus he christened Rumbi. No one is quite sure what happened to the third dinosaur that was supposedly shaped like a pterodactyl. Rumbi and Rangui are cartoon character dinosaurs with goofy faces and non-naturalistic features. The five-foot-tall dinosaurs sat at the top of the driveway at Gauss' home in Bonita and eventually became the neighborhood mascots.

Tragically, Gauss perished in a car accident at the age of 19. Sometime after his death, Gauss' mother moved to a Chula Vista trailer park, taking the creatures with her. Bonita residents wondered what had happened to the two dinosaurs which had become part of the local folklore.

One night in 1993 the two sculptures were discovered in a mobile home park by Chula Vista police officer Tom Everett, who had grown up seeing the dinosaurs. In the attempt to return them to Bonita the blue dinosaur was damaged beyond repair. The remaining one, Rumbi was placed at Bonita Village Shopping Center on Bonita Road in 1999 as a memorial to the artist. Time and weather took a toll on the handmade statue and eventually the head of the creature fell off, prompting the malls management to try and find an artist who could bring Rumbi back to his former condition.

In April 2004, Channel 10 News aired a story explaining how the statue had lost his head and that Bonita Village property manager Richard Johnson was looking for an artist to restore him. “I was flipping channels one night and I happened to catch this story. I thought how cool is that and I immediately called the station to see if they could put me in touch with Richard,” said Tracy.

After being interviewed by Johnson, Tracy was chosen over several other artists to complete the repair work, which quickly became a labor of love for Tracy. Tracy volunteered his expertise in welding and metal fabrication for the project and convinced RCP Block and Brick supply in Chula Vista to donate the materials.

“I was out there working on him and I started meeting all kinds of people who would come by and tell me about Jerry and the dinosaurs and what they meant to the people of Bonita. I was just sort of blown away by the community support these sculptures had. One of the stories I heard was that when he first created the dinosaurs, there was this kids club he was a part of that thought they would eventually create millions of these creatures. They were so enthusiastic about them. People kept thanking me for saving the dinosaur. Greg and Cheryl Cox came by in an unofficial capacity to thank me.”

Unbeknownst to Tracy, a small group of people had begun to raise money in order to replace Rangui the missing T-Rex mate to Rumbi. Southwestern College Journalism Professor/Playwright Max Branscomb had written and produced a play about the dinosaurs as a fundraiser. Branscomb approached Tracy as he worked on Rumbi and asked him if he would be interested in recreating the blue dinosaur. “He asked me how much I would charge to make Rangui and when I named the price, he said that was the exact amount they had raised for the piece,” said Tracy.

In May, Tracy began work on the second sculpture. Turning to RCP Block and Brick again for help, Tracy said the building supplier donated a truck load of needed materials and Frazee paint donated the blue paint that covered the piece. The sculpture would end up weighing over 2,000 pounds, taking 247 feet of 3/8 inch rebar, yards of stucco mesh and gallons of sealant. “I asked them if they wanted a Kelly Tracy dinosaur or if they wanted me to recreate the original exactly. They wanted an exact replica, so that is what I did.”

In January 2007, as Tracy was putting the finishing touches on the blue dinosaur, Vanessa Chicca, director of Glen Abbey Memorial Park, asked him if he would be interested in creating a dinosaur type sculpture in the same vein as the Gauss originals for Glen Abbey's infant's resting place called The Land of Nod.

“I was kind of surprised that a cemetery would want a dinosaur sculpture. Then Vanessa took me up to Glen Abbey and showed me the headstones of Jerry and his mother. There on their headstones are Rumbi and Rangui. That is how important these sculptures by this young self-taught artist are to this community. They want to keep his vision and memory going,” said Tracy. “They have set aside a special area just for this sculpture.”

Originally commissioned as a small statue comparable in size to Gauss, Tracy admits he got “kind of carried away” as the project progressed. The foam covered creature towers over its creator. “When I asked Vanessa what she wanted it to look like and if she wanted to see a sketch, she gave me carte blanche. She said just said, ‘We trust you, have fun with it.' I thought about making this creature even bigger but the door of my studio is only nine feet high,” he explained with a grin. “They were kind of in awe when they came to see it for the first time. I've actually fallen in love with it and offered to keep it and make them a smaller one if they didn't like it, but they loved it.”

“It was a little bigger than we anticipated, but when you give an artist free reign you have to respect his vision. And anyway, it's a dinosaur, right? I certainly am pleased by how it's turning out,” said Chicca.

The monster was named by Tracy's fiancée Rubia Ronquillo and modeled in part after the couples' dog, Buddy, a muscular Staffordshire Terrier-bassett hound mix. “See his shoulders? They look just like Buddy's. The piece is a composition of welded steel tubing, rebar and stucco mesh covered and filled with polyurethane foam and will be coated with a two-tone green polyurethane rubber skin. It weighs about 800 pounds.”

Tracy is getting ready to sand the statue in preparation for its skin. When that is applied, the beast will be ready for installation. By the time the creature is finished Tracy will have devoted over 300 hours to its creation. And it has already begun to take on some of the mythical stature of its predecessors. Tracy entered the steel framework of the half-finished project in both the Ocean Beach and Coronado Christmas parades last December, taking the Best Family Float prize at Ocean Beach.

A short documentary of this project will be featured at the 5th annual Imperial Beach International Film Festival Sept 7 - 8 and Tracy said that Glen Abbey anticipates news coverage of the installation by at least one TV station. “Ken Cramer did a story about the original artist and his Glarfs on the Channel 6 News show About San Diego and now he said he would like to do a follow up story on the next generation dinosaur sculptor; me” said Tracy.

On Sunday, April 27, Glen Abbey Memorial has scheduled a plaque ceremony for Rangui the Glarf and Tracy at the 10th annual Rootin' Tootin' Chili Cook-Off from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m at the Bonita Village Shopping Center, 4180 Bonita Road.

The installation of Dinosaurous is scheduled for May 15 with a Memorial Day unveiling May 26. Glen Abbey Memorial Park is planning a big celebration with a marching band and special guests such as Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, County Supervisor Greg Cox and numerous other dignitaries as well as friends, family and the general public.

Chicca adds, “I loved the whole story about this young man and his dinosaurs. The fact that he died so young, that he and his mother are interred here at Glen Abbey; it just pulled at my heartstrings. Bonita is a special place, and these dinosaurs are part of our history. When Kelly's dinosaur is installed, after the news stories come out, people will see the dinosaurs on Bonita Road and say, oh that is what that is all about. I hope Kelly's is embraced by the community like the others were,”

For more information see Tracy's Web site www.kellytracyart.com For directions to Glen Abbey see www.dignitymemorial.com.

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