Berkeley bids adieu to the controversial Big People statues

The statues stood on the pedestrian bridge over I-80 for 12 years. It will take 3 days to remove them.

statue on bridge in Berkeley
A crane prepares to lift the Big People statue off the western side of the pedestrian bridge on Nov. 24. Photo: Pete Rosos

The faces of former Mayors Tom Bates and Loni Hancock will no longer be seen on the Big People statues that have stood at either end of the pedestrian bridge over I-80 in Berkeley for 12 years.

Contractors for the city of Berkeley have been removing the 28-foot-high sculptures over the past few days. The one on the eastern end of the bridge has been removed from its plinth and was driven to Emeryville on Monday. The other one should be gone by the end of today.

Berkeley determined that the sculptures were in disrepair and keeping them up would be too expensive — a perspective with which the artist who created them, Emeryville City Councilmember Scott Donahue, disagrees. He said the fiberglass pieces just need a good coat of marine paint.

Reactions to the removal of the sculptures, which will cost Berkeley $47,000, have been mixed.


“Good riddance to hideous rubbish. I hate those ugly, shouty things,” wrote one Berkeleyside commentator.

“What an eyesore,” wrote another.

“I’ll be sad to see them go, but I understand it’s not everyone’s cup of tea,” wrote Janet Winter. “There aren’t many people left who remember when those were living, breathing events, and those events deserve to be remembered.”

drone footage of Berkeley pedestrian bridge
An aerial photograph of the eastern side of the pedestrian bridge shows the empty pedestal where one of the Big People statues stood until Monday. Photo: Phil Rowntree

“Scott Donohue is a well-thought-of artist,” wrote Sherry. “I was on the Arts Commission when we commissioned him to do the pieces at the ends of the pedestrian bridge. I’ve loved them ever since, and am so sorry the City decided not to invest in the relatively slight investment to keep the statuary in decent shape. Very glad Donohue has taken them back, and I’ll bet they’ll find a home or homes. If I had a large enough property, I’d even consider taking one of them!”

Charles Burress, who used to work for BUSD as well as for former Mayor Tom Bates, left a comment to say that he thinks the statues should be replaced with “new ones of Bullwinkle and Mr. Peabody – in tribute to Berkeley’s own Jay Ward, who produced the Rocky and Bullwinkle series?”

But then Burress shared a factoid with Berkeleyside that was unknown to us.

“Tom Bates once told me that he and Loni are among the figures depicted in the statues,” he wrote.

So we contacted them.

“I was depicted as the “thinker” reading a book on the west end and Loni flying a kite on the south end,” said Bates.

Donahue told Berkeleyside that he was having the statues taken to Alameda, where he would repaint them. He hopes to find them a new home.

Big People statue with a crane readying to take it down
The Big People statue on the western end of the I-80 bridge with a crane readying to take it down, Nov. 24. Photo: Pete Rosos
Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Berkeleyside. Email: frances@citysidejournalism.org.