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Defend Your Kickstarter: Refurbishing the Doggie Diner Heads
Scott Lucas | Photo: Courtesy John Law | January 10, 2014
Three of the beloved icons of Weird San Francisco are in need of some serious repair. Time to pitch in?
Defend Your Kickstarter is a weekly look at the wild, wacky, and just plain wonderful world of Kickstarter. Today's project: Refurbishing three of the iconic Doggie Diner heads, the 10 foot tall mascots of the former Doggie Diner chain.
Kickstarter defender: John Law, a member of the Cacophony Society, Laughing Squid, and a co-founder of Burning Man.
San Francisco: So you launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to refurbish the three Doggie Diner heads that you own?
John Law: I don’t consider that I own them. I just take care of them. There are only twelve still in existence in the world, and nobody else has dog heads that are mobile.
You carry them around on a trailer, right?
We have a custom trailer. The dog heads are bolted down to the with cables. It’s a horrifying ordeal to get them off. It takes five or six guys. One of our goals is to build a traveling yard arm, so we could pick up any one of the dog heads to drop it down and roll it away.
And you want to refurbish the heads. What does that take?
They’re rusted out pretty bad. Ever been inside the Statue of Liberty? You know how it’s just exo-structure connected to the walkway on the inside? On a much smaller scale, that’s what the dog heads are like. There’s no skeleton, it’s just metal attached to fiberglass. They’ve been outside for 50 years and that metal is going pretty bad. They all need to be replaced, cleaned out, and re-fiberglassed. We're going to do it right.
I know nobody else has a triple set of the dog heads, but doesn’t the city of San Francisco have one?
Yeah. I’ll tell you a good story about that one. There used to be a dog head up at 48th and Sloat. But then back in 2003, the property owner realized how valuable the land was, and decided to get rid of the restaurant that had the dog head. Rumor was they were trying to get a Starbucks there. Much to their chagrin, when they started talking about tearing down the Doggie, there was a groundswell against it. We went to the supervisors to get it landmarked. But of course, the head fell down. When it fell, it was on April 1st—April’s Fools Day. They called me. I had just gotten home, had just cracked a beer when I got the call. It was a cold windy night about 630. I jumped in the van. The city had just taken possession of the head, which meant they were liable for it. A couple of camera crews had rolled up too. And who’s out there in short shirt sleeves sweating—sweating!— but Ed Lee. He’s the head of Department of Public Works at the time. He had inherited the dog head. I start talking to him. I kind of laid it on and made sure that camera crews had him saying on tape that the city would restore it. And then they did. They did a beautiful job.
What is it about the dog heads that grips people’s imaginations?
There’s a bunch of things. For local people, older folks, it connects them through the iconic image to their childhood. It gives them their place in the city. The other thing is that the expression on the faces is enigmatic. It’s a Mona Lisa smile. For a cartoon character that’s a unique and bizarre thing.
You must take them all over, right? Where’s your favorite places to roll up with the dog heads?
I really like to take them out to the neighborhoods, and small towns around the Bay Area like Hayward or El Cerrito. Obviously we love to go to those iconic locations. The Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, Twin Peaks, Haight-Ashbury, North Beach You’d be surprised where you can take that trailer. It’s fun. I don’t do it all the time. I have a job and a wife and kids. We’ve had it at the beginning of Bay to Breakers. We took one on a boat right after they opened the new Giants ballpark. They put us up on Diamond Vision. For someone with a little exhibitionism, which I have a touch of, it’s really fun to drive around with the heads.