Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

The Transformers’ Next Battle: Optimus Prime vs. Neighborhood Board

Georgetown University students may soon give their last wave to the Optimus Prime and Bumblebee Transformers statues that line many Hoyas’ walks to class. 

The Old Georgetown Board (OGB), a Washington, D.C. government advisory board of three architects who review Georgetown projects, recommended the removal of two popular Transformers located on Prospect Street between 37th Street and 36th Street in Georgetown. The Transformers statues, which stand at almost 7 feet tall, are located outside the house of Newton Howard, a cognitive neuroscientist at Georgetown University, who commissioned the creation of the Transformers. 

Howard said he put out the statues because they represent the relationship between human and machine and are meant to be enjoyed by community members and neighbors.

“I wanted to share it with the wider majority of children that are just passing around,” Howard told The Hoya. “Kids just love them. And the neighborhood.”

Other neighbors did not find the Transformers as charming as the visitors did. 

Catherine Emmerson, neighbor and co-chair of the Prospect Street Citizens Association, a group that represents and advocates for the interests of Prospect Street residents, said this attention from tourists was just the reason why she advocated for the removal of the Transformers. 

“We have motorcycle gangs that show up and block the middle of the street to take photos,” Emmerson said at the April 3 meeting of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2E, which oversees the Georgetown, Burleith and Hillandale neighborhoods. “We have cars at idle. We have tour buses, we have pedestrians, off the street, in front of the house, on our sidewalk, across the street, you name it, we have it.”

Howard disagreed with Emmerson and said it’s important for the Georgetown neighborhood to be welcoming to others, instead of pushing them out.

“That’s not who we are,” Howard said. “We welcome people from abroad. We welcome people from out of town. We welcome people from other neighborhoods. We welcome people from next door to us, from the 100 doors down from us.”

The OGB declared in April 2021 that the statues, which are made up of spare motorcycle and car parts, did not fit with the neighborhood’s historical feel and required Howard to submit a permit for temporary installation, which the OGB granted for six months. After the six-month period concluded, the statues remained under Howard’s wishes. 

Jasmine Criqui/The Hoya | The Old Georgetown Board (OGB), a D.C. government advisory board of three architects who review Georgetown projects, urged the removal of the popular Georgetown Transformers statues on Prospect Street.

Joe Massaua (SFS ’25), a representative of ANC2E representing Georgetown University alongside John DiPierri (SFS ’25), said the statues should be recognized as public art.

“John and I have listened to neighbors and students for their opinions on the statues,” Massaua wrote to The Hoya. “In our most recent meeting on the ANC, we worked to remove language labeling the statues as disruptive, and view the statues as Public Art.”

“That being said, I think there is room for robust discussion with the homeowner and neighbors on the placement of the statues,” Massaua added. “Historically, homeowners follow the rules of Public Space Permits for art in Georgetown, since it is a historic district with firm statutes. I think the statues are a benefit for the community, and I look forward to engaging with the homeowner on placement moving forward.”

Gwendolyn Lohse, an ANC 2E representative who found issues with the statues, said they lack adherence to the OGB permit process. 

“I don’t care if it was the most federal-heavy historic piece,” Lohse said in the meeting. “If they weren’t respecting the process, they weren’t respecting the process. The type of art does not matter to me in some way.”

Howard said he will continue to defend the statues.

“We’re leaving them there,” Howard said. “We’re fighting. We are in the trenches.”

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