California Men Declare Themselves Makers of Pine Mountain Monolith

For the first time, someone has taken credit for erecting one of the monoliths that have popped up in the last few weeks, riveting the world.

A group of four artists and fabricators unveiled themselves on Saturday as the creators of the stainless-steel curiosity that was placed atop Pine Mountain in Atascadero, Calif., on Tuesday — and shared a YouTube video of a newly made replacement going up after some young men unceremoniously toppled the original and put a cross in its spot, livestreaming themselves in the process.

“We intended for it to be a piece of guerrilla art. But when it was taken down in such a malicious manner, we decided we needed to replace it,” Wade McKenzie, one of the California monolith’s creators, said in an interview Sunday evening.

The news of the origins of the monolith was first reported by the website YourTango.

McKenzie said he built the three-sided steel structure with the help of his friend Travis Kenney, Kenney’s father, Randall, and Jared Riddle, a cousin of Travis Kenney.

Early Friday morning, another shiny steel tower was discovered in downtown Las Vegas under the Fremont Street Experience, a five-block entertainment district in the city’s casino corridor.

The fascination with the monoliths, named for their resemblance to those in the 1968 Stanley Kubrick film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” began when the first was discovered in the Utah desert on Nov. 18. Four unknown men dismantled it on Nov. 27 and carted it off in pieces in a wheelbarrow.

Then two apparent copycats appeared. The first atop a mountain in Romania, and the next the Atascadero sculpture. Both were taken down within days, the Romanian one anonymously and the California one by the men who dragged it down the mountain Thursday morning chanting “Christ is king!”

Atascadero, a city of 30,000 people near the central coast, is the lifelong home of three of the men who installed the Pine Mountain artwork. They say the year has been trying for all of them: Business has been tough, and McKenzie’s father died a few weeks ago of complications from COVID-19.

When the first monolith was found in Utah, Travis Kenney said it piqued their interest. “We were like, ‘Damn, check out this art that people are traveling hours to see!’” he said. Both he and McKenzie identify as sci-fi geeks and are fans of “2001.”

“After the second one popped up in Romania, we were like, ‘There needs to be a third,’” he said. “And then we were like ‘Screw it, why not us?’”

They said they built the original out of stainless steel in just a few hours on Tuesday, and carried the 10-foot-long piece two miles up the 1,300-foot mountain trail. “Not to boast, but we motored up that thing,” McKenzie said. “We’re all nearly 50 years old, and it proved we were all in pretty good shape to be able to carry a 200-pound piece up a mountain in a relatively short period of time.”

A hiker discovered it the next morning.

“We had no idea this would go viral,” McKenzie said. “People were driving from four hours away from L.A. or San Francisco to see it.”

After it was torn down, McKenzie said the men reached out to the mayor, Heather Moreno, offering to create a permanent installation somewhere in the city. “But she said no, the best spot would be back up on the hill,” he said.

So this time, they made it harder to move and enlisted others to help. “It’s got about 500 pounds of concrete in there,” McKenzie said. “No joke.”

“It’s got a whole subsection that’s all structural steel, and it sinks about four feet into the ground,” Travis Kenney said.

“But that’s not an invitation for somebody to try to tear it down,” McKenzie quickly added.

The men lugged it back to the mountaintop, the twinkling lights in the city below reflected in its shiny black surface. In their video, posted on Friday, the structure is jimmied into place under cover of darkness while one man shouts, “You can’t bring me down!”

Terrie Banish, the deputy city manager of Atascadero, said in an email on Sunday evening that the city is happy to see it return.

”It brings back that joyful spirit that was taken away and it gives something for people to look forward to” in a difficult time, she said.

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