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Deep water divers will be honored with new waterfront monument in Santa Barbara

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -   The birthplace of deepwater diving will have a specially-crafted monument at the Santa Barbara harbor entrance in 2024.

Fundraising has begun, with the sale of replicas of the bronze monument.  It will be 22 inches and weigh 40 pounds. They can be purchased for $5000, each with the proceeds going to the monument fund.

The deepwater diving monument will be located in a walkway spot between the harbor parking lot and the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, next to the Breakwater restaurant.

In 1962, breakthrough research on deepwater diving took place in the Santa Barbara waters off of Santa Cruz Island.

It was a project taken on by abalone divers and they invented the helmets and suits, along with the special mixed-gas air systems to go to great depths safely.

Former Santa Barbara City College Diving Instructors Don Barthelmess and Leslie Leaney have been working with the Santa Barbara Waterfront Department and the Architectural Board of Review to design the spot for the monument.

It will be eight feet tall on a two-foot base. The design will be a 1972-era diver with a Kirby Morgan SuperLite 17 Diving Helmet. In the origins of the industry, they were made in a shop in the 400 block of Garden Street. Now there is a large manufacturing plant is in Santa Maria.

The bronze monument will be constructed in Simi Valley by acclaimed sculptor Greg Polutananovich, a graduate of Santa Barbara City College. He has also created sculptures of presidents Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, along with movie star John Wayne and Native American Chief Sitting Bull.

"We are proud to represent on behalf of the diving community and the City of Santa Barbara  internationally. This is going to be an internationally famous monument," said Barthelmess.

This weekend, the Historical Diving Society and alumni from the diving program at SBCC will gather at the Maritime Museum for dinner and a talk about deep sea diving along with a presentation about the monument. Two similar examples of fine-art statuettes of the sculpture will be on display.

The museum has several exhibits on deepwater diving. They show the evolution of the helmets, suits, and air systems from the original days 50 years ago next month to more modern lightweight designs.

Some have been used in major motion pictures involving undersea filming.

"80 to 90 percent  (estimates)  of commercial divers working today use the  superlight weight helmets made right here in Santa Barbara," said Barthelmess.

The helmets are primarily worn by workers doing deepwater projects for bridges, oil rigs, and water projects worldwide.

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John Palminteri

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