How Quirky is Berkeley? Ask the rusting steel skeleton playing the sax

2219 Marin Avenue. Photo: Colleen Neff
2219 Marin Ave. Photo: Colleen Neff

Driving up or down Marin, you will have seen the rusting steel skeleton playing a saxophone, adorned perhaps with flowers, TIG welding rods, an American flag and beads. You may have noticed many steel fish as well.

They are the work of Mike Yoji Nagamoto, who has lived here for more than 30 years.

2219 Marin Avenue. Photo: John Storey
2219 Marin Ave. Photo: John Storey
2219 Marin Avenue. Photo: John Storey
2219 Marin Ave. Photo: John Storey
2219 Marin Avenue. Photo: John Storey
2219 Marin Ave. Photo: John Storey
2219 Marin Avenue. Photo: John Storey
2219 Marin Ave. Photo: John Storey
2219 Marin Avenue. Photo: Colleen Neff
2219 Marin Ave. Photo: Colleen Neff
2219 Marin Avenue. Photo: John Storey
2219 Marin Ave. Photo: John Storey

The oversized wind chimes are repurposed welding tanks. Nagamoto retired from the Berkeley Fire Department with 30 years of service in 2008. He has worked as an industrial welder under contract with Piledrivers, Dives, Bridge Wharf and Dock Builders Local 34, taught welding at Laney College, and taught welding in PG&E’s Power Pathway program. And over the years he has filled his front yard with welding projects.

The sax-playing skeleton is the centerpiece of the work in his front yard. He is not the first or only skeleton. The original sax player was stolen in the late 1980s. This one is big and heavy and attached to big and heavy things. It will not be easily stolen.


Mike Yoji Nagamoto. Photo: Colleen Neff
Mike Yoji Nagamoto. Photo: Colleen Neff

Nagamoto’s front yard is filled with pieces that he has made, filled to the point that his wife has suggested that no more art go in the front yard. To be fair, there are a lot of steel fish. His work area is at the north end of the driveway.

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2219 Marin Ave. Photo: Colleen Neff

The garage door is a canvas — fish, a mermaid, signs, repurposed welding torch head tubes and tips, and repurposed spearguns. The spousal ban on more art does not cover the back yard, and there is more art there.

2219 Marin Avenue. Photo: Colleen Neff
2219 Marin Ave. Photo: Colleen Neff

Nagamoto has fashioned one of the more unusual gates in Berkeley to keep deer out of the backyard, which is filled with stag horn ferns that deer would find tasty.

2219 Marin Avenue. Photo: Colleen Neff
2219 Marin Ave. Photo: Colleen Neff
2219 Marin Avenue. Photo: Colleen Neff
2219 Marin Ave. Photo: Colleen Neff
2219 Marin Avenue. Photo: Colleen Neff
2219 Marin Ave. Photo: Colleen Neff
2219 Marin Avenue. Photo: Colleen Neff
2219 Marin Ave. Photo: Colleen Neff

Nagamoto is kind and modest. When we first asked him if he was the artist who had made the art in the front yard, he said, “I am the welder.” He identifies first with the craft, secondarily with the art he has made using his craft. His fish can be seen in several Berkeley yards, and at the San Pablo Yacht Harbor.

San Pablo Yacht Harbor. Photo: Riggy Rackin
San Pablo Yacht Harbor. Photo: Riggy Rackin

A few are for sale at the Buddhist Center of America’s bookstore at 2140 Durant Ave. (at Fulton).


What a prince of Berkeley quirk Nagamoto is. A self-effacing, humble, bemused retired firefighter, a welder, a diver, a lover of stag horn ferns – and an artist to boot. This is a Quirky Berkeley Landmark, and so is Nagamoto.

Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,000 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means.

For a fuller version of this post, see Quirky Berkeley.

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