Billionaire Won't Remove Transformers Statues Outside His Residence
Massive action figures on a historic block.
A billionaire brain scientist marshaled some superheroic support to save the giant Transformers statues he's erected outside his Washington, DC, home—a display local government says doesn't fit the neighborhood. WUSA reported that Dr. Newton Howard enlisted two actors behind the cartoon action figures—Peter Cullen, who voices Optimus Prime, and Dan Gilvezan, who voices Bumblebee—to testify at D.C.'s monthly Public Safety Committee meeting last Thursday.
Read on for their testimony, the baroque-on-both-sides legal arguments and the committee's decision.
Howard's two 10-foot statues—which were crafted from car parts and are situated atop brick planters on either side of his home's front door—attract a steady stream of visitors, who pose with and take pictures with the super-life-size figures. The Old Georgetown Board, a committee of architects who review projects proposed for the neighborhood, approved a six-month installation in 2021. But that permit has expired, and some of Howard's neighbors want the statues gone.
"Neighbors have argued that the statues don't fit with the aesthetic of the historic block of multimillion-dollar homes, could pose a safety hazard, have drawn unwanted traffic to the neighborhood, including from a motorcycle gang, and could encourage residents to put up statues of other figures," the Washington Post reported. "Joseph Stalin was named as an example."
Six neighbors—including the five in closest proximity to Howard's home—sent the board a letter of complaint in March 2021. "It is clear that 'transformer robot' structures sitting on planters are clearly inconsistent with the goal to preserve the historic nature of Georgetown," the letter said.
"By themselves, and despite the character of our historic street, these structures change the nature, and therefore, the value of all of the homes on the 3600 block of Prospect Street, NW."
Tracy Themak, an attorney who represents some of the neighbors, says the statues are a nuisance. She showed the committee "pictures of the crowding, the trash, the motorcycle gangs that go through, the blocking of the sidewalk … there's clear demonstration that this interferes with the traffic and pedestrians."
Howard's attorney, Paul Strauss, said the Transformers were no menace to Georgetown society. "They do not endanger the public," he said. "If anything the Transformers have a long and glorious record of protecting the citizens of Earth against the Decepticons."
He previously argued in the Washington Post that the so-called biker gang was "some rich guy with a Ducati who probably does tax work."
Continuing the in-character theme, Cullen testified to the Public Safety Committee over Zoom last Thursday. "I, Optimus Prime, pale to his heroism. Georgetown should be proud to share his visions of transformation," he said.
Gilvezan, the voice of Bumblebee, joined in: "I understand that some people think these statues don't fit the character of the neighborhood, that they stand out like a sore thumb," he said. "First, I resent being compared to a sore thumb. A healthy well-functioning thumb, maybe. But a sore thumb—never."
Ultimately, the committee sided with the neighbors: they decided the statues must be removed. But Howard told WUSA he won't fold—he plans to take the matter to court. "If you're doing something on or with your own property and it's not hurting anyone else, you should be allowed to," Strauss, Howard's lawyer, told the Washington Post before the hearing.
"Let's just err on the side of freedom." Yet neither attorney or client want the case to be a drag. "Are we going to try to have some fun with this?" he added. "Absolutely."