The tragically uncool history of the “Bronze Fonz”

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It seemed like a good idea at the time.  The Cable network “TVland” had begun a promotional campaign to encourage American cities that were the location for a classic television series to erect a statue featuring one of the major characters from their show. Several cities had already taken part already. New York City had unveiled a statue of Ralph Kramden from “The Honeymooners”, Minneapolis had a Mary Tyler Moore Statue with Mary Richards throwing her hat into the air,  Mount Airy, North Carolina had their Sheriff  Andy Taylor and Opie statue and even Cincinnati was considering a “WKRP” statue. So Milwaukee felt like the time was ripe to honor their most famous fictional citizen Arthur Fonzirelli from the 70’s sitcom “Happy Days” or as he was lovingly known as on the show  “The Fonz”.

Making a Fonzie statue seemed like a no-brainer. The statue would be a tourist draw, could be used to promote the city, and would be a point of civic pride. The city raised over $85,000 through PR campaigns using ” Bronze the Fonze” Tee Shirts and even selling thumbs up cookies.

The trouble began almost immediately after when sculptor Gerald Sawyer unveiled his creation. The unveiling ceremony seemed promising enough. Almost all of the major cast members from both “Happy Days” and the spin-off “Laverne and Shirley” (except Ron Howard) were in town to join in on the festivities, including the actor who played the Fonz, Henry Winkler.  Winkler declared the statue “beautiful” and all the cast members concurred.

Sadly. many prominent members of the Milwaukee community did not share Winkler’s praise. The city’s newspaper The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wrote a scathing condemnation of the statue. The CEO of Milwaukee Art Museum, as well as the head of Milwaukee Artist Resource Network, also demanded the statue be removed. A couple businesses near the statue threatened to relocate.  Even the public was pretty much evenly split on their opinion of the statue.

The objections that people had against the statue seemed to stem around three major concerns.  First of all, they felt the statue was “too small” this objection seems rather odd. The statue is life-sized. Henry Winkler who played Fonzie is Five foot six inches the same height of the statue. The second complaint was that when the statue was first revealed, “The Fonz”  was all gold-colored. “Where are the Blue jeans and the leather jacket? ” people asked.  The artist relented and redesigned the statue to include a jacket and jeans. This only upset the detractors even more. The modifications they complained made the Fonz “look demonic”. The statue’s eyes didn’t have pupils. They were added which did help.

The third complaint was the hardest to counter. It was just plain aesthetically unpleasing.  Or ‘Ugly” was the word used by the art critic for the city’s newspaper.


So I ask you, is this ugly? Yeah, okay it is kind of.  Perhaps it is an acquired taste.

Despite the detractors, the Bronze Fonz remained although it was placed on the riverwalk area as opposed to the original proposed location.  The Riverwalk location is perfect for the statue. It is an area that draws a lot of tourists and has actually proved to be successful with visitors to the city.  Happy visitors spend money. Which in turn warmed up the hearts of many of the locals who originally did not support the statue. The Fonz maybe bronze-colored but he’s turning out to be green to the local businesses nearby.

The statue is located in the Riverwalk area of Milwaukee. The Fonz is a little hard to find from the street. The statue is located by Wells Street which has a lot of restaurants, bars, and clubs,  The statue itself is next to a Chinese restaurant called China Gourmet, but if you’re lost, ask anyone where the bronze Fonz is if they’re local they will definitely know. I personally didn’t get weirded out by the statue’s size, but then I’m only Five foot eight inches so the statue isn’t that much shorter than me. The whole riverwalk area is definitely not to be missed. 

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