OGB: Transformers Should Be Removed

The unique now almost iconic larger-than-life Transformers figurines in front of Georgetown University engineering professor Newton Howard’s home at 3614 Potomac St. NW, have reached a new stage in their almost two-year year existential saga.

The three architects who serve as commissioners for the Old Georgetown Board — an arm of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts charged to review all Georgetown construction and architectural projects to protect Georgetown’s historic character — recommended on April 6 that the two six-foot and ten-foot-tall giant replicas of the toy transformers, Bumblebee and Optimus Primus, be removed.

Howard had been given a temporary permit of six months in 2021 to display the two at that time about six-food tall statues in front of his house on what he viewed as his private property but others claimed was the public sidewalk.

The bright multi-colored statues are made up of spare medical parts from equipment used to treat neurological ailments like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, according to Howard. When they were erected, they immediately attracted excited public attention, especially from students at Georgetown University just one block away and from tourists who increasingly come to see the Exorcist Steps, one of Georgetown’s most popular tourist sites, just steps away from Howard’s home.

Neighbors began to complain that their section of Prospect Street was becoming impassible. They know when they buy there that the street can handles heavy traffic from nearby Holy Trinity Catholic Church (where President Joe Biden and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have attended Mass) and the 1789 Restaurant on the corner — as well as vehicles exiting the G.U. main campus.

A few contend that the increased number of cars, coming at all times during the week to view the Transformer statues, block the street flow continually and leave cars unattended in front of residential driveways and designated parking places to take selfies and photos of the statues.

Almost all the neighbors who testified at the April 3 meeting of the Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said that they liked the statues.  They found them to be fun to look at and examine, and that their kids loved them.

But all had experienced dangerous situation of being blocked from their homes because of unmanaged traffic and illegal parking. Several repeated a suggestion made in 2021 that the transformers be removed to an on-campus site university since they were quite innovative and fun in themselves.

In 2021, the OGB gave Howard a six-month temporary permit to display the statues and to decide (assumably with neighbors) what was to be done next.

At issue was a permit to display the art on the public space in front of the Howard home. But at the April ANC meeting it was reported that Howard responded to the OGB and the neighbors request in 2021 by moving a smaller statue to his rooftop and replacing it with a much larger one in front of the house — and then ignoring with complete impunity the deadline of 16 months earlier.

No neighbor at the April ANC meeting objected to the art itself. They all said they appreciated public art and Howard’s expression of it. They wanted to work with him to remove them to a place where they could still be seen but not be a danger to their mobility. Both neighbors and commissioners expressed disappointment that Howard did not appear — yet again — at the ANC meeting, even though he had been asked to come.

Some OGB commissioners indicated they thought the transformers didn’t fit with the neighborhood’s historical character.  “They say Howard’s Transformers don’t fit with the neighborhood’s character. That could be a slippery slope to what else might be allowed if they let the robots stand unchecked by the rules,” a WTOP story reported.

“That’s their opinion,” Howard responded in the WTOP report. “I have a differing view. And I think the judicial system might have a different view as well.  I’ve received a lot of support randomly. People sending me notes, leaving me flowers. It was quite touching actually.”

In fact, the decision by the Old Georgetown Board and its three commissioners is not an order; it is a recommendation. The actual physical removal of the transformers statues if the District decides to go ahead with the recommendation would fall to the D.C. Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over sidewalks. Or the District government could decide to just let them stay until another decision is made.



One comment on “OGB: Transformers Should Be Removed”

  • EastGeorgetowner says:

    Thank you OGB! There is no reason Mr Howard needs to foist these monstrosities on everybody – if he likes them, that is his right, but he can put them in his private garden space at the back. Not force them on others and ruin our beautiful historic aesthetic. If everybody did this, Georgetown would be a mess. Thank you OGB!!!

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