If you’ve ever driven down State Route 163 in Kearny Mesa, then you’ve probably spotted a big bird: the stork sculpture perched atop the parking structure at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns. On Wednesday, that bird turned 60.
With a baby doll wrapped in a blanket gently dangling from its beak, the sculpture has been the hospital’s resident mascot for the past 28 years, symbolizing the arrival of the nearly 8,000 babies born there annually.
And, like the many babies that fill the wings of the hospital, the stork has its own unique birth story – or “bird” story, if you will.
According to Sharp Mary Birch, the stork made its debut on Jan. 1, 1960, on a float in the Rose Parade. Fittingly, that float, sponsored by the city of Sierra Madre, was named “The Birds and the Bees.”
The right person, at the right time, spotted the sculpture.
“A Sharp staff member watching the parade thought it would be perfect for the new maternity wing at Sharp Memorial Hospital,” Sharp Mary Birch said in a press release. “Upon request after the parade, the city donated the stork to the hospital.”
With the bird in place, the new maternity wing at Sharp Memorial Hospital was nicknamed the “Stork Club.”
When Sharp Mary Birch opened in 1992 – a facility entirely dedicated to mothers and newborns – the stork found a new home. With the help of a crane – the heavy equipment kind of crane, not the long-necked bird kind of crane – the stork was relocated to Sharp Mary Birch.
And, for the past nearly three decades, that’s where the stork has stayed, perched on the parking structure at 3003 Health Care Dr., overlooking SR-163.
Locals may recall the bird left its post for a moment three years ago when the sculpture was damaged during a gusty El Niño storm on Jan. 31, 2016. That day, the wind was so strong it swept the baby doll right out of the stork’s blanket. The doll landed on the ground on the rooftop level of the parking structure, where it was found by a Sharp Mary Birch employee as she made her way into work the following morning.
The stork was briefly taken down. After undergoing some cleaning and repairs, both the stork and the baby doll were carefully returned to their perch with the help of Sharp Health Care engineering staffers who worked together to hoist the sculpture back to its position.
That engineering crew, according to Sharp Mary Birch, is the crew that has been caring for the stork since it landed at Sharp in 1960. The crew occasionally takes down the stork for repainting and refurbishing to keep it looking good.
And, from time to time, the engineering team – much like actual parents – will even dress up the stork in festive gear, including a top hat for New Year’s Day.
The historic sculpture is made of fiberglass on an iron frame. If you get closer, you’ll see a dedication plaque that on the ground right next that explains the stork's motherly mission in life: “The stork has welcomed new mothers and babies at Sharp – and is a beloved San Diego landmark.”