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Why residents say Georgetown is not the Optimus PRIME location for 2 Transformer statues

The robot statues have been beloved by tourists and some locals, but direct neighbors have been complaining for years.

WASHINGTON — Nestled between multi-million dollar homes, passersby will find an unusual site on Prospect Street NW in Georgetown: Two Transformer statues, standing nearly seven feet tall.

The sculptures were put up by a homeowner two years ago, and have become a tourist favorite. But direct neighbors have been less happy. On Thursday an advisory board recommended that the statues be removed. 

Dr. Newton Howard, a neuroscientist who works at Georgetown University, commissioned the statues. He told WUSA9 that each statue has a price tag in the "tens of thousands." 

"I wanted to share them with everyone on the street," he said. "They enjoy them.”

On any given day, there is a constant flow of visitors to take photos of the gigantic statues, and it has been celebrated by many tourists and locals. However many of Howard's direct neighbors have been less pleased with the sculptures. 

Credit: Evan Koslof
Visitors taking photos by the two Transformers Statues in Georgetown.

Six of his neighbors, including the five which sit next to his home, penned a letter in March 2021 to the Old Georgetown Board, complaining about the statues. 

"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 read. "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." 

According to a spokesperson for the Commission of Fine Arts which oversees the advisory group, the Old Georgetown Board gave the green light in 2021 for a six-month installation. However, that six-month permit has long since expired, and yet the statutes have remained. 

As recently as March 2023, neighbors have expressed frustration with the constant traffic caused by the statues. Neighbor Catherine Emmerson penned the following letter to the local ANC on behalf of the Prospect Street Citizens Association: 

Credit: Evan Koslof
A sculpture of Bumblebee, a popular Transformers character, erected along Prospect Street NW

"We are not naive and understand why people stop and look at the 'Transformers.' They need to be, however, in a location suitable to safe vehicular and pedestrian traffic and where residents will not share an unnecessary burden by their presence. We would recommend locating them to the waterfront or near some of the vacant storefronts in the commercial corridor, both of which have extensive public pedestrian and vehicular traffic." 

On Thursday, the three-person advisory board voted to recommend that the statues come down. Ultimately, it’s up to the DC Department of Transportation to decide whether these robots stay or 'roll out.'

Dr. Howard disagreed with the board's assessment that the statues do not match the character of the neighborhood. 

"I think that’s their opinion," he said. "They’re entitled to their opinion. I and several other thousand people do not agree with them.”

Dr. Howard said he's going to continue to fight for this sculpture, and has no plans to remove them. 

Visitors on Thursday gave their thoughts on the neighborhood debate over Transformer statues. 

"We need to support those people who have the ability to bring new art into this neighborhood," said Rich Sawatzki, who lives in Foggy Bottom. 

"They don't really fit into the vibe of the area," said Josh Stein of Georgetown. "But at the same time, they look amazing."

Credit: Evan Koslof
Art Lawson, visiting the two sculptures, erected along Prospect Street NW

Another visitor, Art Lawson, offered his thoughts as he took photos of the sculptures. 

"You know how Georgetown is," said Art Lawson. "Prim and proper. I think it's fun and good for the neighborhood."

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