- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2000

Four majestic concrete lions, weighing 16 tons each, will be replaced on the Taft Memorial Bridge on Connecticut Avenue over Rock Creek in Northwest D.C. sometime next week.

They are replicas of the original lions that were removed six years ago so the bridge could be repaired and the lanes widened.

The intricately designed beasts, which measure nearly 12 feet by 16 feet, were replicated by sculpture Reinaldo Lopez with $750,000 in Federal Enhancement Funds under a contract with the D.C. Department of Public Works.

Mr. Lopez, a reconstruction specialist, explained that the new lions are based on Roland Hinton Perry's older design, but with restored muzzle and mane details.

"They are magnificent pieces," said Mr. Lopez, describing the strong features and texture of the two roaring lions and two closed-mouth creatures that will be sentinels at approaches to the bridge.

"They are really very alive."

Perry had designed the imposing sculptures for the Connecticut Avenue Bridge, later renamed the William Howard Taft Memorial Bridge, where the original lions were displayed from 1908 to 1994.

After nearly a century on the bridge, the aging lion sculptures were weathered and had lost much of their artistic detail. Their precast, layered concrete design had cracked and deteriorated over the years.

"You see, it peels apart and you can see different layers … that is a consequence of that [precast] method," said Mr. Lopez of the older lions.

The original lions are temporarily "caged" in storage under the Interstate 395 tunnel. Mr. Lopez is not certain what the city intends to do with them.

"I would like to see them in an important place out of the elements, of course," he said.

"Structurally, they [the new sculptures] are forever," said Mr. Lopez, who used monolithic casting techniques to make the structures heavier and more dense than the originals.

It has taken about a year and a half for Professional Restoration Inc., and cement contractor CTI, both of Southeast D.C., to complete the design and sculpting process.

Mr. Lopez said it takes about a week to put the mold together and about 70 years for the lions to dry completely.

He explained that it will take several years, with the help of the natural elements, to break in the new lions.

"The weather it will help to highlight spots. It's like a bronzed statue, stained at spots," said Mr. Lopez, 56, a native of the Galicia region in northwest Spain where both his grandfather and great-grandfather were stone masons.

Mr. Lopez, who studied from 1963 to 1968 at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, moved to the District in 1983. He now resides in Shady Side, Md.

In 1987, Mr. Lopez and his wife, Patricia Ghiglino, formed Professional Restoration Inc., a company that restores, repairs and builds stone and metal structures, monuments, buildings and sculptures.

The company has installed stone at several metropolitan sites including the memorial to Women in Military Service For America in Arlington, Va., and the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the Mall in Southwest D.C.

The federal government funded 80 percent of the Taft Street Bridge lions project and the District kicked in 20 percent. Federal Enhancement Funds are devoted to statues, canals, bike paths, and other structures associated with roadways.

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