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Area thieves are stooping to filch lions, elephants, and other lawn baubles.
On the morning of Nov. 16, Adams Morgan resident and masseur Michael Rodgers was standing on the front stoop of his Vernon Street home chatting with a client. When he noticed some dark patches on top of the walls lining the building’s stairway, he stopped midsentence. The splotches were all that remained of the pair of hand-carved Phoenician lions that once guarded the entryway to his home.
Rodgers reported the crime and checked out a few antique-fixture stores, but to no avail. The ornaments, which he estimates to be at least 100 years old, had been installed by a previous owner—who also featured their likeness on his stationery.
Theft of carved stoop art doesn’t rank high on the crime-solving agenda of local activists—perhaps because it’s the work of amateurs. Whoever dislodged Rodgers’ felines, for instance, used the most primitive technology; the operation was sloppy enough that chunks of the beasts’ bases are still visible.
Picturing a team using crowbars to pry the lions off his stoop in the middle of the night, Rodgers’ partner, Alan Roth, says, “Who does something like [this]?”
A pesky band of criminals—that’s who. According to Donetta George, co-owner of the Brass Knob, an Adams Morgan architectural-antique shop, there have been “a lot of thefts of garden pieces [over the] last couple of years.” Every three to four months, she says, someone will call asking about a stolen urn or ornament.
George says that the Brass Knob files reports with the Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) Pawn Unit for all the antiques it purchases. If a seller comes into the store without proper ID, the shop won’t purchase the item. A few potential sales have been suspicious enough to prompt the store to call the Pawn Unit directly.
Like the outlaws who smash your car window for a pair of sunglasses, thieves of architectural adornments aren’t always picky. In what Logan Circle resident Erik Paul terms “a weird little crime,” a pair of concrete urns—used as flowerpots—was stolen from the walls lining the front steps of his condominium building at 12th and O Streets NW about three months ago. They were nothing fancy or hand-carved—he estimates their combined value at about $50. “Just your typical beige cement-looking urns,” says Paul, who is president of the building’s board. He says it even took him a few days to notice that they were gone.
The perp chose to chisel through the adhesive holding the urns to their bases rather than make off with two larger containers lying unattached in front of the steps. They sit there still, holding flowers and kale.
As for the two that are missing, Paul jokes that they’re “probably in West Virginia on the side of the road being sold.”
The architectural-theft safari has also claimed an elephant. Kamal, an Adams Morgan resident who prefers to give only his first name, says that the elephant he purchased to spruce up the area by the garbage cans outside his place disappeared about a year ago. In this case, the thief had to open the gate and carry off a sculpture that Kamal estimates weighed about 100 pounds—”so heavy you’d break your back” trying to carry it, he says. (On a separate occasion, thieves even plucked the 2-by-3-foot flagstones marking the path to the cans.)
Such heists don’t surprise the Brass Knob’s George. She says that the store’s policy on displaying items in front of the store changed more than a decade ago, after someone purloined a Greek-style sculpture. That item was 30 to 40 years old, says George, and not all that valuable.
“It usually happens more in the spring, when the weather is getting warmer,” says Detective Sandy Urps, head of the MPD’s Pawn Unit. Lawn ornaments range from inexpensive animal sculptures that one might find around a birdbath to statues of mythological figures worth as much as $5,000. Whereas the former are often stolen for personal use, Urps says, the latter are stolen for profit, often sold at flea markets far from D.C.
Urps adds that the best way to protect your Aphrodite statue is to photograph it and tag it with unique identification—such as your birth date or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily very common, but certainly the theft of valuable objects is something that happens,” says Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham.
But when it does happen, rest assured that tracking down the culprits won’t preoccupy local do-gooders. Jobi Jovanka, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Adams Morgan, says that though she certainly regards theft of people’s property as important, “we’re more concerned about real crime and real issues…youth being killed, real criminals—the real deal.” CP