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Christo’s Umbrella Project May Not Be Made in the Shade With PM-Christo-Japan

September 23, 1991

FORT TEJON, Calif. (AP) _ Mary Poppins never had this many worries with her parasols. But then she didn’t have 3,100, each the size of a small moving van.

Environmental artist Christo always has thought big and his latest work - ″The Umbrellas: Joint Project for Japan and U.S.A.″ - is the most ambitious yet.

The project will feature simultaneous three-week displays of 1,340 blue umbrellas across inland valleys 75 miles north of Tokyo and 1,760 yellow parasols in a mountain pass 70 miles north of Los Angeles. The display is meant to demonstrate the differences and parallels between the two countries.

The Bulgarian-born Christo, who has wrapped Paris’ Pont Neuf in fabric and rope and erected a white nylon fence across miles of Northern California fields, plans to unfurl his $26 million trans-Pacific artwork on Oct. 8.

Christo will supervise the Japanese unveiling and immediately fly to Los Angeles to oversee the debut here on the same day, with a little help from the international date line.

About 800,000 visitors are expected to view the Japanese display. The California Highway Patrol estimates that between 2.5 million and 7 million spectators will view the exhibit that will surround this tiny truck-stop town.

Authorities and merchants worry that Interstate 5, a major north-south corridor, could slam shut when the umbrellas open.

There are concerns, too, that parking on nearby roads will be insufficient and that the umbrellas will not go up on the scheduled day.

″I think it’s going to be a mess,″ said Bob Suppon, manager of Ridge Route Towing in Fort Tejon. ″Even my tow trucks aren’t going to be able to get out and move around.″

″We’re expecting the worst and gearing up for it,″ said CHP spokesman Mark Ehly. ″If I-5 gets plugged up, nobody’s going to go anywhere.″ Truckers are being advised to consider alternate routes or night travel, Ehly said.

In a normal 24-hour period, 45,000 vehicles pass over the 4,239-foot-high summit where the umbrellas will be situated. During the display, 100,000 or more cars and buses may try to squeeze through in a single day.

Project organizers have worked with the CHP and other traffic planners for four years to minimize problems. Christo, who is funding the project himself, has spent more than $100,000 on CHP assistance alone.

Along with news and spectator helicopters, dozens of private planes are expected to fly over the umbrellas, despite Christo’s admonition that his display should be seen only from the ground.

Augie Huber, project director of the umbrella display for both countries, cautioned that no Christo project has debuted on the advertised date. ″It’s not a horse race.″ he said. ″We want to open them carefully.″

Area restaurants are preparing for the onslaught.

The pool room at the San Remo Pizzeria will be set up to seat an additional 110 diners. At the Okie Girl, a barbecue restaurant with a small brewery, two special beers called Autumn Umbrella and Umbrella Gold will debut on Oct. 8.

Okie Girl expects to serve as many as 2,500 meals a day, up from 500 normally. ″Christo is the guardian angel who brings wealth to everyone else and asks not for one red cent,″ said owner Mary Lynn Rasmussen.

Helicopters already have placed many umbrellas next to their metal bases. When open, each will stand 19 feet, 8 inches high and span 28 feet, 6 inches in diameter.

Tom Golden, the project director for California, said everything is proceeding smoothly. The 900 workers who will help deploy the umbrellas are due in Fort Tejon on Oct. 4.

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