Georgetown board recommends to remove Transformers, doctor plans to challenge the decision

You may have watched the TV show or played with the toys as a kid, but have you seen the life-size Transformers sculptures in a local D.C. neighborhood?

The two six and ten-foot-tall statues are a novelty attraction some in the Georgetown area might be familiar with — one that’s been a point of contention in recent months. The local community finds itself divided again over whether to take down the “imposing” statues.

The Old Georgetown Board now says they’re officially recommending to remove the Transformers after a meeting Thursday night. The two giant robots sit just outside the front door of the home of world-renowned neuroscientist and Georgetown University professor Dr. Newton Howard.

Howard owns the sculptures, which he says are made of spare medical parts from equipment used to treat neurological ailments like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Just like the cartoon, he says, “There’s more than meets the eye” to his decision to place them outside his home.

“Think of yourself as the transformer,” Howard said, speaking to WTOP in front of the sculptures Friday afternoon. “It’s about transforming your community, your life. It’s about inclusion … inclusion of others different from you.”

Howard says he’s prepared to fight in the courts if he must to keep his Transformers standing.

Dr. Newton Howard outside his Georgetown home, where two life-size Transformers statues have raised community debate. (WTOP/Matt Kaufax)

In a statement obtained by WTOP, the Commission of Fine Arts says Howard’s sculptures — even though they’re right outside his home — are technically on public property. They also say he never filed the proper paperwork for a permit to keep them standing, even though he said he was going to months ago.

Both the Commission of Fine Arts and the Old Georgetown Board cite the Old Georgetown Act, which notes architectural standards that must be adhered to to preserve the character of the neighborhood.

They say Howard’s Transformers don’t fit with the neighborhood’s character, adding that it could be a slippery slope to what else might be allowed if they let the robots stand unchecked by the rules.

“That’s their opinion,” Howard contended. “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,” Howard went on. “People sending me notes, leaving me flowers. It was quite touching actually.”

Some neighbors like Trinity Johnson say they don’t understand what the big deal is. “I think they don’t do anything to denigrate the neighborhood,” she told WTOP. “If anything, they liven it up.”

“It also makes me happy how much the kids love them,” Howard added.

It’s important to note that the decision by the Old Georgetown Board and its three commissioners is not an order, but merely a recommendation. The decision to physically remove the Transformers, or leave them be, falls to the District government, specifically the D.C. Department of Transportation.

The department said its reviewing the Old Georgetown Board ruling and supporting documents and will have an update either within the next couple weeks.

Matt Kaufax

If there's an off-the-beaten-path type of attraction, person, or phenomenon in the DC area that you think more people should know about, Matt is your guy. As the features reporter for WTOP, he's always on the hunt for stories that provide a unique local flavor—a slice of life if you will.

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