By Kathy Chouteau
One of the simple pleasures of summer is enjoying the roadside attractions that pop up along the way on a meandering road trip. Thankfully, cityfolk who may be staycationing this summer need not miss out on these little slices of Americana—because Richmond is chock-full of them!
Here’s a roundup of some of our favorite Richmond roadside attractions and where you can find them:
Guillermo, The Golden Trout
He stands (swims?) tall in all his shiny, scaly glory on the side of the Richmond Art Center as one of our city’s largest pieces of public art. And as it turns out, that giant fish sculpture actually has a name: “Guillermo, The Golden Trout.” The 50-foot, 800-pound sculpture was created by artist Andree Singer Thompson from recycled metal with the help of volunteers who wrote messages of hope behind his scales (it was first displayed in 1997). Thompson chose the once-endangered California state fish as a symbol of hope and a reminder about the scarcity of drinkable water left on our planet. You can spot Guillermo while cruising down Barrett Ave.; look to the left while heading westbound and approaching the 25th St. intersection—you can’t miss him.
The Golden Horse
Let’s just say if the late, great John Wayne were still with us, he’d be right proud to ride this golden steed. Saddled up at 12153 San Pablo Ave. in Richmond, the “Golden Horse” is a life-size golden horse statue (on wheels no less) that dutifully greets customers at the entrance to Golden Gate Western Wear. He gets wheeled out during the daytime and wheeled in at night and is a familiar sight to San Pablo Ave. passersby, particularly those heading southbound as they approach Macdonald Blvd. According to store owner Bill Knudsen—who owns it with his wife, Lisa—the horse-with-no-name came to him after appearing in a “Year of the Horse” Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The Golden Horse moved with Knudsen when he relocated his store from San Francisco to Richmond in 2000. However, Knudsen says there’s almost always been a horse at their current location; the former occupants of that building used to display a wooden horse (a Pinto) out front since their opening in 1947. Knudsen inherited the owners’ original horse tie-up post from back when people used to ride up to the building. The Golden Horse outside today’s Golden Gate Western Wear bears no reins—only wheels.
Emily the Robot
At an impressive 7 feet tall, “Emily the Robot” is pretty hard to miss if you’re cruising down the San Pablo Ave. corridor. She makes her home outside M.G.R. Muffler and was created five years ago by company owner Jose Flores—along with a friend—using upcycled muffler parts. Flores’ inspiration? His now 12-year-old daughter, Emily, who often visited his shop as a child and created toys using the muffler parts. As we previously reported, it took Flores and his friend five months to complete work on Emily the Robot, who reigns supreme as muffler queen along her little stretch of San Pablo Ave. Check her out on the right side of the street near 12432 San Pablo Ave. while driving northbound.
Another eye-popping roadside attraction along the San Pablo Ave. corridor is the one and only “Smogzilla,” who bears the same name as the business he’s helping to promote. You’ll find Smogzilla—a massive, blue, plastic Godzilla-like creature with big, white claws and fangs to match—perched atop the roof of his namesake Smogzilla business, adjacent to the Car Care Center at the corner of San Pablo Ave. and Barrett Ave. The relatively new Richmond roadside attraction was brought in about one month ago because he’s “big” and helps “get attention” for the smog inspection business, according to one worker. At a monstrous 12 ft. tall, Smogzilla is hard to miss—or forget!
Anyone who has spent any length of time in Richmond has likely seen them: beautiful mosaic creations that to the untrained eye are simply “trashcans.” But to the creator of these eclectic City of Richmond receptacles—Richmond mosaic artist Daud Abdullah—they transcend the boundaries of being “art” or “trash cans” to become urban blight-fighters that are better known as “treasureboxes.” Abdullah has mosaicked numerous square treasureboxes placed throughout the city, sometimes with the help of youth participating in his TreasureBox Academy—an arts program where he teaches the how-tos of creating mosaic art. The treasureboxes are created from upcycled tesserae such as stones, glass, broken windows, tiles, old china, etc. and feature subject matters such as Rosie the Riveter, the Chinese New Year, hearts, peace, a love for Richmond and much more. Look for the mosaic treasureboxes in outdoor spaces, i.e., nearby the Richmond Civic Center, outside Catahoula Coffee and all along Richmond’s main thoroughfares.
Community Green Space Mural & Metal Sculpture
When it comes to noteworthy roadside attractions, Richmond’s Community Green Space park offers double your pleasure. While the park—located at the corner of Harbour Way and Macdonald Blvd.—contains lots of outdoor art, two particular works really pop when viewed from the road: A sizeable mural placed on the side of a Kaiser building bordering the park and a tall metal sculpture of a figure, located toward the entrance.
In 2016, Create Peace Project brought 250 Richmond residents together to paint the massive mural, which features a heart at its center and the outlines of some of its volunteer painters. The provenance of the metal sculpture is more of an enigma, but combined with the mural, offers passersby a hint of the artistic and natural wonders the park contains within.
Got a Richmond roadside attraction you’d like to share? Tell us about it in the comments!