There are some things you just don't do in Deep Ellum. You don't mess with Keyboard Bob, you don't harass the bartenders and you sure as hell don't fuck up any of the artwork. Those are the sorts of things that were supposed to have been confined to the "old" Deep Ellum. But not everybody got the memo: Early Saturday morning the owners of Wits End woke up to discover Wally, the scrap metal robot sculpture that sits on the sidewalk between the bar and Club Dada, had been destroyed overnight.
"We were all pretty outraged at the idea that somebody would start smashing up artwork in a neighborhood that kind of lives and thrives on the art and music scene," says Wits End bar manager John Moore. He posted a photo on his personal Facebook page to help get the word out, in hope someone had seen something. "Everyone was really upset. There's all these new changes in the neighborhood, all these new bars coming in. Everything's supposed to be higher end."
Moore says the last of the staff had left the bar around 4 a.m. Saturday and photos of the destroyed robot first surfaced around 7 a.m. "Everyone tried to say it was [someone from] Uptown, but it's like, 'Come on, we know better,'" Moore says. "What we think is it was a bunch of kids running around the neighborhood pulling fire alarms or doing some kind of crazy stuff."
While no one knows who destroyed Wally, before long people took action. Later that day, Wits End set up a sign behind the robot that read, "THIS WAS ONCE ART." On Sunday, Ace Cordell — the artist who had built the sculpture — showed up and set about rebuilding it. Known to many for his "zombie truck," Cordell proceeded to pull scraps off his own truck to rebuild the robot.
The robot's now bigger (it's about 3 feet taller), badder and even has a gun. It has a new name, too: Buster. (Get it?) "He cut one of the guns off the truck and put it onto the statue, which I thought was pretty funny," Moore says. "He's out there grinding on the truck to weld to another piece of art."
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Wally — or, uh, Buster — is one of five robots that Cordell has placed around Deep Ellum, each made with recycled materials. Cordell, who once worked at Wits End, built Wally six years ago, and Wally has moved all around the neighborhood — most recently being placed outside of July Alley until it closed last fall. Another of his robots is in front of Braindead Brewing. (Cordell also did the metalwork at Reno's Chop Shop.)
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"Up until now, nobody's bothered them," Cordell says of his sculptures. "I might find a sticker on them or somebody puts a cigarette out on them — or, you know, bums probably pissed on them. But they've never been destroyed. That was just insulting." That's why Cordell didn't hesitate to rebuild it and to make a point of making Buster "even more in your face." "When I saw that somebody destroyed one of my pieces, I said, 'I'm going to go down there and rebuild it and make sure they know they're not going to beat me.'"
That defiance is shared by plenty of people in Deep Ellum, including the folks at Wits End as well as passersby. Petty vandalism isn't about to slow down this neighborhood any time soon. In fact, it might just make the resolve that much stronger. "It sits in the corner, it doesn't bother anybody, it's out of the way and it's a cool little thing to walk by," says Moore. "Countless times I've seen people stop and take pictures with it — more so now because of how big it is."