Cars On A Spike -- Going, Going, Gone?

A 40-foot-tall car kebob named "Spindle," best known for its appearance in the 1992 film "Wayne's World," will be dismantled by Labor Day. "It's definitely coming down," says Michael O'Connor, the mayor of Berwyn, Illinois. "But I wouldn't say it's definitely going away."

Spindle was built by Los Angeles artist Dustin Shuler in 1989 (Another of his incongruous suburban artworks, "Seabee," came down and definitely went away in 2002.), Spindle rises from the center of the spacious parking lot of the Cermak Plaza Shopping Center, and has beckoned a generation of camcorder-wielding, doughnut-stunt-driving visitors. But nearly two decades of Chicago-area weather has battered and rusted the eight cars impaled on the big spike. The cars have also been splattered with so much pigeon poop that not even power-washing can dislodge it, according to the mayor.


Spindle was given its Labor Day death sentence by the Cermak Plaza Walgreens, which wants to move to Spindle's spot and build a store with a drive-thru. Mayor O'Connor told us that the Plaza, which owns the sculpture, was at first open to the idea of moving it to another part of the parking lot. "But when they saw the price tag, they were like, 'Oh my god!" Spindle was built for a little over $75,000. The estimated cost of moving it is $350,000.

"If all the cars are pretty intact and all they need is body work, that number will come down," the mayor said. "But if the cars just crumble -- and they might -- and we have to bring the artist in from California and he's got to re-do the whole piece, we're talking big money." And big money, the mayor made clear, is something that Cermak Plaza is not willing to pay.

Spindle, although condemned, is not dead yet. The Berwyn Arts Council and the Berwyn Mainstreet Committee have joined forces to try to convince Cermak Plaza that it's not good business to throw Spindle away (and the groups have already won the support of some powerful Illinois politicians). If the Council and the Committee can get the Plaza's blessing, then they intend to go into full-blown fund-raising mode. They'll drum up whatever cash is needed to move the old sculpture or, if necessary, to pay Schuler to build a new one. Spindle will rise again.

"We would like to think that there's not a Bad Guy in this," said Maggie Ragaisis, a spokesperson for the groups. "And we're trying to show that this is not just a Berwyn thing, that people are interested in Spindle from all over the country and all over the world." That's a sentiment echoed by Mayor O'Connor, who told us that, "There's an awful lot of people that are just heartbroken about Spindle coming down." Maggie prefers to focus on Spindle's possible afterlife. "I think things are looking pretty good, actually."

If the folks in Berwyn can successfully engineer Spindle's survival, it may mark a shift in the power balance, the moment when oddball Roadside art finally became acceptable to the politically connected and fundraising-adept. It's too late for creations that have already felt the cold kiss of the bulldozer's blade. But if Spindle can get a second chance, then maybe beloved freaks like Chicken Boy have a shot as well.

December 2007: The Spindle still stands, and its removal has been postponed to at least the Spring of 2008.

Torn down May 2008.

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