The sagging Love Locks fence on Commercial Street will be replaced by a work of art designed and fabricated by a Portland craftsman who has a deep affection for the city’s waterfront and all things nautical.

The existing chain-link fence, located on the water’s edge along the sidewalk between Long Wharf and Portland Lobster Co., was deemed a public safety hazard in July because it is collapsing under the weight of hundreds of padlocks attached by couples pledging their enduring love.

The city has commissioned Geoff Herguth Design to fashion a 40-foot-long replacement fence for $23,000 that will not only discourage lovers from attaching padlocks, but also serve as an attractive public art piece in one of the busiest tourist spots in Maine.

Geoff Herguth, whose work can be seen on a new deck at the city’s Riverside Golf Course and at DiMillo’s on the Water, didn’t have to look far for inspiration.

“I’ve been around the Portland waterfront for about 40 years,” said Herguth, 70. “I just got to thinking about the water and the wave action and what we could do with that spot.”

Unofficially dubbed the “wave fence,” its rails will be 11¼-inch-diameter steel pipes formed in a gentle wave pattern ranging from 5 to 7 feet tall, Herguth said. The posts will be 3-inch-square steel tubes topped with round finials. A large anchor, signed by Herguth, will adorn the center of the fence.

“It’s a piece of art, really,” he said.

DOING PROJECT ON SHORT NOTICE

A locked central gate will allow the Portland Water District to access a stormwater runoff valve that’s below the fence. The entire fence will be powder-coated in a seaside shade of blue by Performance Product Painting Co. in Auburn.

The city plans to install the new fence at the end of September, said Jessica Grondin, city spokeswoman.

The city didn’t seek contractors’ bids as it normally would for the fence because of the urgent and unusual nature of the project, Grondin said. Also, Herguth had worked for the city in the past and was willing to set aside other projects to build an attractive, lock-proof fence in short order, she said.

Geoff Herguth Design of Portland envisions a fence with rails of 11-inch-diameter steel pipes formed in a wave pattern ranging from 5 to 7 feet tall and painted in a shade of blue.

Geoff Herguth Design of Portland envisions a fence with rails of 11-inch-diameter steel pipes formed in a wave pattern ranging from 5 to 7 feet tall and painted in a shade of blue. Digital rendering courtesy of city of Portland

“It’s great that he was able to design a fence that reflects the waterfront,” Grondin said, especially when some view the Love Locks fence as public art.

A large portion of the old fence, with the locks intact, will be permanently displayed nearby in DiMillo’s parking lot, Grondin said.

LOCK TREND HAS ITS DRAWBACKS

People started attaching locks to the city-owned fence around Valentine’s Day 2013 and it now appears to be covered with about a thousand locks.

The fence started to fail in early July, when a portion of chain link snapped loose from its frame, Grondin said. As a temporary fix, city staff reattached the chain link with heavy-duty clamps and placed two orange-and-white-striped wooden barricades in front of the fence. They also stretched yellow police “caution” tape across the fence.

The idea of displaying padlocks as a symbol of love has been traced to Serbia during World War I. According to legend, after a Serbian woman was jilted by a soldier, other women in her town wanted to protect their own relationships, so they wrote their names on padlocks and attached them to a single bridge.

The tradition has gained steam in the past 10 to 15 years, especially in Europe. In Paris, the Pont des Arts was covered with hundreds of thousands of locks before city officials intervened in 2015 and replaced its lock-covered wire-mesh panels with Plexiglas. In recent years, locks have appeared in public spaces in cities and towns in Wisconsin, Ohio, Rhode Island, Nevada, Georgia and dozens of other places.

Once the Love Locks fence is replaced on Commercial Street, Portland officials plan to prevent its replication, at least in that location.

“The (new) fence was designed so a simple padlock will not be able to be attached,” Grondin said. “If a lock happens to get attached, it will be removed immediately.”