Last year I wrote about an American named Bill Heine who became the “local character” in Oxford Great Britain.Heine ran two cinema houses, and had garnered a law degree before turning to movies.
In 1986 Mr. Heine had a Big Idea and for some reason commissioned the building of a huge headless fibreglass shark which he craned to the top of his house. The timing of his installation of a headless shark on the roof of his 1860 British townhouse was the “41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.” The piece was created by artist John Buckley. Mr. Heine tried to say that his headless shark was a political statement. The shark weighs 400 pounds and is 25 feet from its tail to the top of its headless body.
The good citizens of Oxford were apoplectic about this shark among the roofs, and as this web page on the Hedlington Shark attests the local Oxford city council sprung into action.
You can read about that debacle here. The story spoiler is that Mr. Heine got to keep the shark, with an appeal tribunal stating that this was not about the fact the shark did not blend in to the surrounding historic roofscape but rather the individualism that the shark did NOT blend in the historic roofscape. You can’t make this stuff up.
The Hedlington Shark is now a historic significant monument. But what are the chances that a local Price Tags Vancouver reader actually interviewed Bill Heine in person? And that this interview was published in People Magazine?
Dianna Waggoner wrote this piece in 1987:
The neighbors should have seen it coming. When Bill Heine, a 42-year-old American from Batavia, Ill. moved onto High Street in quiet little Heading-ton, England, he already had a reputation for strange roof embellishments. First he had stuck a pair of plaster arms above his movie house in nearby Oxford. Next he had put a pair of humorous, black-and-white-stockinged legs atop a second theater. Last spring, shortly after buying his brick house on High Street, he pulled his best trick yet. One Saturday neighbors awoke to see a 25-foot, fiberglass shark sculpture being towed through town by a farm tractor. Sure enough, before the day was out, the shark was up there on the roof, right above the ivy and the pots of geraniums, head-down in the shingles. What did the neighbors make of that?
“Downright disgusting,” observed Irene Williams from her front yard.
“I’m not going to quarrel with my neighbor over it,” declared Patricia Rakes. “But I did ask the city council if they’d lower my tax rates.”
“It’s a pity it did not demolish the whole house,” one councilman wrote.
Heine insists that Buckley’s fish is artful and “improves the aesthetics of the neighborhood.” But there’s no accounting for taste, and local authorities have ruled the piscine plunger requires a permit and have ordered its removal. Heine anticipates one or more trials, but he’s confident he’ll land his shark legally. “The fish will swim on and on and on,” he proclaims.”
You can take a look yourself at the shark’s context in this YouTube video below.
Sandy, thanks for posting the story of Oxford’s rooftop shark. And yay for art’s sake. As in the case of the chandelier beneath Vancouver’s Granville Bridge and the milk cow on Georgia Street, cities need more of such.