How Quirky is Berkeley? The alien and UFO of Vine Street

2155 Vine Street. Photo: John Storey
2155 Vine Street. Photo: John Storey
2155 Vine Street. Photo: John Storey
2155 Vine Street. Photo: John Storey

Who has not seen the UFO – replete with “Berkeley or Bust” bumper sticker and twinkling lights at night – on Vine Street just east of the original Peet’s Coffee at Walnut Street?

George McNeil, who with his artist wife Joanna Salska-McNeil, has lovingly and beautifully restored the once-lost grandeur of 2155 Vine Street, has two explanations for the flying saucer and alien.

One: A few years ago, a UFO landed in their front yard and the alien passenger stepped from the vehicle.  The landing was calculated taking into account the location of the original Peet’s.

Two: Kyle Milligan, an Oakland artist, made the saucer and alien and gifted them to the McNeil’s for their front yard.


George McNeil. Photo: Colleen Neff.
George McNeil. Photo: Colleen Neff.

McNeil is a longtime member of Pile Drivers Local 34 in Oakland. He works in marine construction. These days he is a diver tender.

2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff
2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff

McNeil and wife Joanna have lived in the house for about 25 years.  They took it from collapsing and neglected to lovely and bright and quirky.

2155 Vine Street. Photo: John Storey
2155 Vine Street. Photo: John Storey

The three cats on the front of the house, second story, were flea market finds.  No meaning, just random finds.

The front yard is a planned and well-executed jungle that is filled with objects.  The front yard – a planned and well-executed jungle – is filled with objects. There is a fire hydrant that George found abandoned on the side of the street when Oakland’s Preservation Village was under construction.  There are marine fixtures – cleats and bollards and a winch with rope.  And there is art.

Robot at 2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff
Robot at 2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff

McNeil bought this tin-can robot at the Alameda Point Antique Faire / flea market.

Mural by Joanna Salska McNeil, 2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff
Mural by Joanna Salska McNeil, 2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff
Mural by Joanna Salska McNeil, 2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff
Mural by Joanna Salska McNeil, 2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff

Shortly after they moved into the house and got the roof back on, Joanna painted this bucolic mural in the dining room, evoking her childhood in Poland.   The bottom photo also shows McNeil’s National Geographic collection, back to 1905.

2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff
2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff
2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff.
2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff.

Joanna collects old photo albums – with photos.  They line three walls of a study.

Painting by Joanna Salska-McNeil at 2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff.
Painting by Joanna Salska-McNeil at 2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff.

Salska-McNeil’s art hangs throughout the house, including this stunning baby/doll/face in the front downstairs room.

George McNeil at 2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff
George McNeil at 2155 Vine Street. Photo: Colleen Neff

I counted at least (did I lose track?) three hiding places in the house. McNeil built this one as a sleeping place when he works odd shifts and needs quiet and isolation to sleep.

2155 Vine Street. Photo: Coleen Neff
2155 Vine Street. Photo: Coleen Neff
2155 Vine Street. Photo: Coleen Neff
2155 Vine Street. Photo: Coleen Neff

What we have here is a near-perfect recipe for Quirky Berkeley Perfection.  An artist and a union construction worker buy a completely beat-up old house and make it beautiful.  They raise a daughter in a magical place.  She makes art. He is part of the boom and bust marine construction world. He haunts flea markets.  He is a kind, open man who loves National Geographic and hidey holes. Tools and diving helmets abound.

As rational and plausible as the Kyle-Milligan-made-this explanation of the UFW and alien is, I choose to suspend disbelief for a moment and embrace the thought that the alien was drawn to the quirkiness of 2155 Vine – and the proximity to Peet’s.

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 8,600 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means.

A longer and more idiosyncratic version of this post may be found at Quirky Berkeley.

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