Ventura Breeze

Mermaid sculpture installed at Marina Park’s Soter Point

By Tim Pompey

   A new mermaid has arrived at Marina Park. She stands about twenty-five feet tall, is made of bronze, and plays a flute. How she landed there is quite a story. Let me explain.

    Part 1 involves Sam Povar, a retired financial and employment executive and a longtime resident of the Pierpont area. Sam’s wife, Oriana, died five years ago, and that’s really where this story begins.

    Sam wanted to provide a memoriam for his beloved wife and offered to do a private-public collaboration with the City of Ventura to restore and beautify a piece of City owned property. “I was the first person to do this,” Sam says. “Basically, I made the offer as a private citizen to take City property and improve it.”

    The end result was Povar Plaza, installed directly across the street from the entrance to the Ventura Pier. You may have noticed it on walks, bike rides, or jogs to the pier. It’s the nice set of benches and plaza at the base of the pedestrian overpass. Sam was inspired and wanted to do more.

    Part II involves his good friend Andy Soter. Andy’s daughter, Andrea, died tragically at age 47. Sam encouraged him to take on a similar type of collaboration. Andy decided to restore the west point of Marina Park with new benches, landscaping and picnic areas. The area would be renamed Soter Point in memory of Andrea. That plan was in progress, when Part III happened.

As Sam tells the story, “I got a call one day from someone with a very strange accent, I thought maybe Russian, maybe an older guy. I didn’t know this person and was ready to hang up, when he mentioned he’d been referred by Denise Sindelar, Supervisor of Public and Visual Arts for the City of Ventura. When he said that, I told him ‘Come on over’.”

    The guy with the Russian accent turned out to be Alec Benke, a former marine engineer, who had immigrated from Vladivostok, Russia via Alaska to California. He’s in his early forties and owns a construction company in Camarillo specializing in rock landscaping. Alec, who also has a home in the Pierpont area, had bought the mermaid sculpture to install at his house. Where it ended up, however, was behind a fence in his back yard. Much to the chagrin of his wife. It was she who suggested that Alec donate the fifteen-foot mermaid to the city. Alec called the City. The City said no thanks, but suggested he call Sam.

Sam Povar and Alex Benke stand in front of the new sculpture at Marina Park that they helped purchase and install. The bronze sculpture, a mermaid with a lute rising out of the ocean, is at the park’s west point next to the breakwater

    And that brings us to Part IV. As Sam picks up the story, “Alec came over, told me about the sculpture, and I said, ‘I’ve got just the place for it: Marina Park’. ‘Oh, I love Marina Park,’ Alec said and Sam replied, ‘I’m not interested in the park, I’m interested in the point.’ So, I took Alec to the point, and he was amazed. He said ‘It was like a dream come true’.”

    The City finally gave permission to install the sculpture. Alec donated the statue and paid for the construction materials and installation. At Soter Point, the grand dame rose in the air. The result is quite amazing.

    Sam really believes in this type of private-public partnership. “We started this and now, like Roger Bannister and the four minute mile, everyone wants to participate.” Sam has a list of twenty-eight vacant lots that could be improved. When all the landscaping at Soter Point is finished, Sam wants to have a grand opening ceremony. He plans to bring his site map in hopes that other folks will follow his example. Anyone interested in this type of collaboration should contact him. “The City can help with space and engineering. We can help with private financing. In this time of deep budget cuts, the City is encouraging private people to help with these type of improvements.”

    Given what Sam, Andy, and Alec have gone through, the rising mermaid seems fitting. Life can sometimes be a dark, rough ocean, but with a little inspiration and hard work, something beautiful can come out of it. “Soter Point, with this beautiful statue, will become iconic,” Sam says. And maybe not just the statue. Maybe the real lasting impression will be their devotion, persistence, and effort for art.

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