D.C. Panel Calls On Man To Boot Down Giant Transformers On Sidewalk

Peter Cullen and Dan Gilvezan, voice actors of Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, backed the owner's pleas to let the Transformers stay on the sidewalk.

Some Washington, D.C., residents aren’t fans of a pair of Transformers statues meeting their eyes in their Georgetown neighborhood. And they may get their wish after a D.C. panel called on the owner Thursday to remove the robots from the sidewalk.

Dr. Newton Howard, a billionaire neuroscientist at Georgetown University, owns the sculptures and placed them outside his home over two years ago. A statue of Optimus Prime overlooks the street below while Bumblebee and another Transformer greet visitors on the ground.

The statues have reportedly brought tourists, children and fans of the iconic franchise to the street, and several visitors who spoke to Washington’s News4 appeared to delight in their presence.

But complaints to several area groups show neighbors haven’t all enjoyed seeing the Transformers roll out onto their block.

“It is clear that ‘transformer robot’ structures sitting on planters are clearly inconsistent with the goal to preserve the historic nature of Georgetown,” read a 2021 letter from six of Howard’s neighbors, according to WUSA9.

“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,” wrote Catherine Emmerson on behalf of a citizens’ group on the Georgetown street in March of this year.

The complaints were enough to spark D.C.’s Public Space Committee, a government body that decides on the use of public space for matters like sidewalk cafes, to decide Thursday that the bots should be removed from the sidewalk, WUSA9 reported.

A separate, three-person federal board ― which reportedly approved the statues’ six-month installment back in 2021 ― called last month for Howard to remove the bots.

Workers stop to admire and photograph Bumblebee outside the entrance of Howard's home in the Georgetown neighborhood in 2021.
Workers stop to admire and photograph Bumblebee outside the entrance of Howard's home in the Georgetown neighborhood in 2021.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

D.C. Shadow Sen. Paul Strauss, an attorney representing Howard, argued at the Thursday meeting that the bots don’t “endanger” the public, according to DCist/WAMU.

“The allegations that they are contributing to a traffic or dangerous activity is just laughable,” he said.

Peter Cullen and Dan Gilvezan ― voice actors of Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, respectively, in the original “Transformers” series ― also joined the meeting to back Howard’s pleas to keep the statues put.

“Now, I understand some people think that these statues don’t fit the character of the neighborhood, that they stand out like a sore thumb. Well, first, I resent being compared to a sore thumb,” Gilvezan said. “A healthy, well-functioning thumb, maybe, but a sore thumb?”

“The Mandalorian” star Emily Swallow, who was born in D.C. and plays The Armorer in the “Star Wars” series, also testified in support of Howard.

Strauss, in an interview with DCist/WAMU, responded to the committee’s decision and assured that the fight for the Autobots is “not over yet.”

“Obviously there’s a variety of legal options but we want to get a better sense of whether reapplying with certain modifications may make some sense,” he said.

“At the end of the day, this should be a decision made by D.C. residents, not federal appointees,” Strauss added. “Dr. Howard’s front porch does not involve a federal interest.”

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