Pasadena has a fork in the road. And it’s 18 feet tall.
Where south St. John and south Pasadena avenues divide, there’s a towering wooden silver fork in the traffic median. The utensil has a black steel skeleton and is rooted in 2 1/2 feet of concrete.
The art was originally intended as a surprise for Bob Stane of Altadena, who celebrated his 75th birthday Oct. 29. But Caltrans, which owns the median, and Pasadena, which maintains the land, are deciding whether to keep it up for a while as an impromptu piece of street art.
“It was just the best birthday present I’ve ever had,” said Stane, who owns the Coffee Gallery Backstage, a coffeehouse and showroom in Altadena, with the fork’s artist, Ken Marshall. “It was the only time I’ve ever been surprised for my birthday.”
The fork was finished about 9:50 a.m. on Halloween after friends worked to erect it clad in fake Caltrans uniforms and hard hats. Friends surprised Stane 10 minutes later with the utensil and chocolate cake.
“We had a large-fork-in-the-road party,” Marshall said.
Stane said the fork was absolutely shocking.
“I was basically screaming, ‘Oh my God, he did it! He did it!’ ” Stane remembered.
Stane first playfully suggested that the location might be appropriate for a fork monument about 10 years ago in conversation with Marshall.
The idea’s been brewing ever since.
“I told [Stane], you can cross this off on your bucket list,” Marshall said.
The city completed a safety inspection on the fork this week and is waiting for results, said Stephanie DeWolfe, deputy director of Planning and Development.
“To my knowledge, there hasn’t ever been a mystery piece of public art just popping up in the city,” said DeWolfe, who has been with the city for 20 years.
If the fork is safe and secure, the city is going to attempt to negotiate a deal with Marshall to keep it as temporary public art, as long as Marshall agrees to absorb the cost of removing the piece when it comes time, DeWolfe said.
At first, the origin of the art puzzled many. City officials on Monday attempted to figure out who installed the piece, but “the cat was out of the bag” by Wednesday, DeWolfe said.
Over the last week, the fork has been featured on TV and radio and has even landed its own blog.
“We’ve heard from a lot of people that they’re enjoying it,” DeWolfe said. “They just think it’s whimsical and fun.”
Marshall, who says this is his first work of art, said the island where the fork is located could be an art space with benches.
On Friday afternoon as cars drove past the fork, people stretched their necks to see the utensil. Others slowed down, to the annoyance of honking drivers behind them.
Some wanted to catch a glimpse of the fork up close.
Gloria Berumen and Stephanie Van Wijk, who work at Huntington Hospital, made a trip to the fork on their lunch breaks.
“We think it’s pretty cool,” Berumen said, laughing.
Steven Faulk of Eagle Rock made a trip to the art en route from the gym to snap photos. “It’s a little on the nose,” he said.
Sue Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage, said the piece reminds her of when Old Pasadena had lots of creative young artists.
“This is kind of a throwback to that era,” Mossman said, speaking of the 1960s and ‘70s.
Mossman said in general, public art is controversial and is often designed to be provocative. But she likes the fork.
“All of us are getting a big kick out of it,” she said.
Bobby Garcia, who lives near the fork, said although he thinks it’s neat, the utensil has caused lots of people to slow down when driving and others to park in his driveway.
“It’s quirky and cool, but did it have to be right in front of my house?” he said.
But not everyone is happy with the art.
Mary Fry, who owns a tea room nearby, said she and her husband think the fork shouldn’t have gone up without permission and don’t see a point to the art.
“It should be a teaspoon, actually,” she said, jokingly.
Stane said the public should consider the fork for what it is.
“This is fun art,” he said. “This is guerrilla art.”