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Posted on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:17 p.m.

The Rock may be fun to paint, but it's a pain for city, residents

By Cindy Heflin

University of Michigan students and alumni may cherish the tradition of painting the Rock at the corner of Hill Street and Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor, but the practice has some unpleasant consequences for the city and nearby residents, The Michigan Daily reports.

For years, college students and others in the community have used the Rock in George Washington Park to profess their love for the university, their fraternity or sorority, or their intended — or to make a host of other statements. Those caught up in the tradition may not think about its undesirable aspects. 

The Rock.JPG

Karen Schaefer wrote her master's thesis on the Rock and took her turn at painting it in 2006. She concluded it was put on the spot in the 1930s.

File photo

From the article:

"While the city never attempts to remove paint from The Rock itself, paint intended to decorate the boulder frequently ends up on city property, including sidewalks, trash cans and signs. In previous years, the city has spent hundreds, and at times thousands, of dollars to clean the area that will likely never remain pristine. ...

"In a January 2009 e-mail to Ann Arbor City Council members, Karla Henderson, former Ann Arbor field operations supervisor, reported that the city spent more than $2,500 in 2007 on removing graffiti at George Washington Park, according to — a website, which posts documents regarding the city of Ann Arbor obtained by residents and organizations."

Meanwhile some residents of the surrounding area have a less-than-affectionate view of the Rock.

Park Advisory Commissioner Gwen Nystuen, who lives in the area, said The Rock is a nuisance, The Daily reported. She told The Daily noise, trash and sidewalk graffiti are troublesome and that many residents consider the university icon to be an “eyesore.”


Haran Rashes

Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 9:17 a.m.

Was the post by Francis a plant? I have a recollection that only days ago on Facebook, Edward Vielmetti wrote that he was doing a story on Carleton Angell. If the plaque at the bottom of "The Rock" was designed by him, it also begs the question, for a possible story on other hidden works of art in Ann Arbor. I know we have a great deal of public art, and some of it has been forgotten to time.


Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 12:47 p.m.

People have been asking how thick the paint is on the rock. Back in 1980, when I was still a CHS senior, I painted the rock and noticed the shape on the front that looked like a fraternity paddle. I told the lady across the street about the shape and she told me it was a gold dedicated to George Washington. She had been at the dedication ceremony on his 150th birthday. I scraped the paint off, which is very thick (and still wet at the bottom) to reveal the plaque. the Ann Arbor News should still have the picture on file. It was sculped by Carleton Angel, a local artist who is also responsible for the plaque at the base of the flag pole on the diag. he is also responsible for the pumas the guard the entrance to the natural history museum

rusty shackelford

Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 12:17 p.m.

Thanks Useless, Speechless. I try to do my part.


Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 10:55 a.m.

Let the students have the rock! Use the funds they get for fines on the coach ban to pay for the rock paint clean up.

Jay Allen

Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 9:33 a.m.

@Stefan Szumko: "I wonder what is under the rock?" Answer: Must be Jimmy Hoffa. Its the only place they haven't looked. LOL So what about "the rock" out on A^2 Huron's campus? The Gallup area residents must be up in arms too!!!


Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 7:35 a.m.

DagnyJ - Chelsea isn't as antiseptic as you may think. We have a wonderful painted rock in Pierce Park. And, the old Dexter High School had one (just like Huron High in Ann Arbor). I don't know about Saline...


Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 7:17 a.m.

This is a tradition and should not be moved or banned. If you as a resident who chose to move next to a university don't like it you should move and then think about where your moving and what may be happening there.


Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 3:14 a.m.

I just don't know what to say about Ann Arbor anymore. I feel like I live in a communist country and voices of people make no difference. The rock has always been there. It was painted for my birthday in 1980 and my mothers 85th birthday soon approaching is coming and she always wanted the rock painted for her. There 57th Anniversary. This is not our town anymore the older children that grew up in Ann Arbor just have it bad. My son was like "they took that away now. These were historic landmarks or places in my memory are now gone and we have what put in its place"Its sad its disturbing. Charge a permit fee create jobs then we have County prisoners that will get them out in the air utilize the systems.Community Service workers on probation. This all could be done if they thought outside of there buns. When friends come to visit they are like what has happened to Ann Arbor it looks Trashy and it does. I grew up here and the only time I remember right was with Mayor Ingrid Sheldon.There are 4 pharmacies on all 4 corners corner and your charging at Gallup now and parks. So why not leave such a part of history alone and create the jobs through probation, parolees, community services, permits etc.Just don't remove it.My gosh can't young people have an opportunity to keep our history. That rock was laid there back in the twenties no big machines and trucks men doing work like the brick road that was of quality.Quit sugar coating everything wrong with this city its bad.We all need to show up at these meetings and voice are concerns pack the room and tell the Mayor and there council what we think. I am sorry Ann I want my old new paper back.Now that's a story. I wanna know where these reporters are from and there backgrounds.The news have even gotten bad. Does U of M own you too.

Seasoned Cit

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 11:20 p.m.

I can't believe City Council hasn't figured out a way to sell painting permits for the Rock!! That would help pay for the clean up and removal of bad words from the sidewalks etc. If the U can get $85,000/year for 20 seats that get used 7 or 8 times a year... the City should be able to make paining the Rock profitable. They can run golf courses at a loss and don't have folks return canoes..but I'm sure they can set up a Rock painting Commission or better yet, how about declaring the rock part of the green belt and use some of those funds to keep the area clean!!


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 10:36 p.m.

@lefty48197 While I am not inclined to defend any in city government. Lets be clear I have not seen any concern about this from the current government. This story has been blown up by and the Daily!


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 10:22 p.m.

I've lived in Ann Arbor for over 40 years. I've always enjoyed seeing the new writings on the rock. Who cares if the sidewalks get painted up occasionally too? The Ann Arbor city government that always seems to care about things that don't really matter.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 10:14 p.m.

As a point o clarification,the rock has been painted by more than just college students. In the mid 80's a nearby preschool/daycare painted the rock and also made a duplicate of it in paper mache'. The youth of this town have long been known to be indoctrinated with disobedience. Hopefully, that is going to change too much. Anybody can drive a tractor.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 9:39 p.m.

I love The Rock! My son went to a college where there was a perfectly nice Rock at the entrance that no one ever painted. I kept pointing it out to him and telling him he should paint it, but the school and the students ("out East")were too snooty for that kind of activity. Go Blue!!!


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 8:32 p.m.

That rock was moved to that spot many years ago, So It could be painted. Anderson Paint, I hope you have good stocks from all the paint and/or profit.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 8:07 p.m.

this is to answer the question by TDW, the actual size of the rock when they started was about the size of a baseball, I can remember it when I was a kid. Has grown a little over the years, Hope no lead paint was used!

Stefan Szumko

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 8 p.m.

I wonder what is under the rock?

Pam Wilson

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 6:59 p.m.

A story about the rock being a "pain"? The rock has been a tradition for at least 40 years, not only for the University of Michigan community but for the Ann Arbor community as well. I for one have enjoyed 40 years of driving, biking or walking by the Rock and seeing what is new. This Rock has been the topic of conversations and photography. It has been part of birthdays, anniversaries, high school homecomings and proms, graduations and wedding celebrations! It IS part of the Ann Arbor community, are you?


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 6:52 p.m.

It would cost less to pay someone to move it than to clean it up all the time.Quit complaining city and move it if you dont like it.I hear this story every couple years.Do something about it or shut up


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 6:27 p.m.

Rusty's comment at top is short but spectacular. A true prophesy.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 6 p.m.

I have to admit that I miss the "old rock" as it was before the painting began. Yah, it looked kind of old fashioned but clean and attractive, and it fit with the old fraternities and sororities in the area- the old stone color and a metal plaque. When the painting began initially, it just seemed like student pranks in poor taste. Then it became a tradition and now the area always seems to look a mess. I think it's time for a "new tradition" that was actually the old tradition.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 5:05 p.m.

Oh please! We forced the residents to move next to the Rock? They didn't see it perhaps? Now they whine about the mess. Sorry, Should have thought about that. The City? $2500.00 to clean that up kept some workers on the payroll & in a job. Leave it where it is, it is a harmless tradition (by comparison), that gives Ann Arbor some of it's character. The Glaciers parked where it is, let it stay there.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 4:57 p.m.

Interesting that the $2500 number got here when the Mich Daily article states $100 for last year and under a little over $400 for this year. I can see where it would be a pain if you lived on the corner, but I wouldn't want to. When I lived a block away it never was noticeable. So I think leaving it as a place where the kids can get their graffitti urges out is fine. would it be better on campus? Maybe, but the location on the way to campus is part of the draw, so they may just paint something else there. Anyway it is too late to change without having much of the community waste time on the debate.

Duane Collicott

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 4:54 p.m.

When the city fixes the Stadium bridge, and implements a process by which it can proactively identify the next piece of infrastructure that will fall apart due to being ignored, then it can complain about painted rocks.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 4:53 p.m.

When I moved here the Rock was one of the more charming aspects of Ann Arbor. I love this college town, even though I am not a college student. If other people don't like the quirky aspects of living near students, there are plenty of nearby towns. Dexter, Chelsea, Saline...all would welcome you. They are painfully antiseptic. No one paints anything there.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 4:46 p.m.

Live with it Ann Arbor.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 4:42 p.m.

Hello, Please leave the rock as is. Lets try an autumn sceen for the art of it. I enjoy the historic "monument". Thank you all, Dawn


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 4:27 p.m.

Folks, this is serious business indeed! We cannot ignore the practical side of this issue. Students who paint this object may be practicing for a career in painting. It's important to understand the dynamics of fluids on round surfaces. Then, there is group cooperation and coordination, important factors in any job. But wait! What is that I see on the horizon? The People for the Ethical Treatment of Rocks is organizing an awareness sit-in at City Hall. I think they have already FOIA'd the City over its callous disregard of rocks. I just hope the Historical folks don't get involved too. After all, the rock is only a few millenia old....

Wystan Stevens

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 4:11 p.m.

How quickly they forget: Sam Wainwright had a story in the Michigan Daily on 2 February 2010, reporting his investigation of the thickness of paint on The Rock. Sam took a core sample, and it measured only an inch and a half. Here's a link to the DAILY's story:


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 4:08 p.m.

There is NO "movement" to get rid of the rock! You have one outspoken neighbor that "says" others are not happy. I did not see any comments from current city officials that would indicate they were concerned. So you have a neighbor and a couple "journalist" that have no propensity to right a real story. Forget about it! This is one of the bigger non stories we have seen!


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 4:05 p.m.

I have the perfect idea.A2 should pay a consulatant $100,000 to examine the issue


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 4 p.m.

It was put there as a George Washington memorial with a plaque [ seldom visible the past 50 years or so ] commemorating Washington's bicentennial birthday in 1932, when it was moved there to city park property. I think that aspect should be preserved even if moved or stays put. From an ecological point of view, that area being constantly doused in paint over the years may now or one day be a health hazard.

C. S. Gass

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 3:52 p.m.

How Dare these Heathens Deface that poor defenseless Rock!!! Don't they realize that their damaging the ecosystem with all that poisonous man made paint! Not to mention the visual pollution! Think of the message that it sends to the children about tolerance of vandalism! Furthermore, someone might post something on that rock that was politically incorrect or that might offend someone! This is an absolute outrage! Something mush be done to stop these wanton degenerates in their destructive crusade! (Note to all, that was sarcasm. This is ridiculous. Leave it alone.)


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 3:50 p.m.

"Park Advisory Commissioner Gwen Nystuen, who lives in the area, said The Rock is a nuisance, The Daily reported. She told The Daily noise, trash and sidewalk graffiti are troublesome and that many residents consider the university icon to be an eyesore." Hey Gwen have you taken a look lately at our other "Parks", our gateways to the City proper? weed choked, busted concrete, perhaps you should spend a bit more time noticing the 600 lb gorilla as opposed to your own fiefdom.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 3:48 p.m.

This is definitely an issue that needs to move to the top of the City Council agenda.

thomas h blaske

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 3:40 p.m.

Painting the Rock is tecnically illegal. Time was, when the police caught us painting it anyhow (I confess now, nearly 40 years out from the events because there MUST be a statute of limitations on such foolery!) our punishment was cleaning it off, down to the stone. That way it was not an eyesore. No paint receptacles were provided permannetly at the site either, which makes it worse. It is a high traffic area, & when well-painted, fun to see. Leave it alone. We live in a college town, so sometimes this sort of hijonks is part of the experience -- and part of the fun.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 3:31 p.m.

If some of you all are going to paint residents who live near the rock with the same anti-student brush, at least do it on real data. One qoute from one resident does not make for sufficient real data. There's no data here to show that they on the whole do not like it, and there's no data to show what kind of annoyance it has become to live next to.

Jay Allen

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 3:29 p.m.

To continue [yes I am PO'ed]....... It really bothers me when a person or a small (very small by a percent) buys a home and then complains about noise or what "they" believe is an eye sore. Milan Dragway comes to mind. It has been there since the 1950's. A farmer sells some land and a small developer buys it. Breaks it into 6 parcels (maybe it was 8) and homes are built. OK, great. But THEN they complain and complain about the late night noise. Well duh, there's a DRAGWAY there for the last 65 years. A few Pittsfield Twp residents have their panties in a wad about some electrical lines. Guess what? The power lines were there LONG before they bought and an easement was established and noted in the title work. A "good" real estate agent would pointed all of that out. Not slam dunk them and now they cry and whine. I can go on and on....... Now the rock. OMG (no not the Usher tune). This is a mess. If you don't like it, then don't look at it. If you don't like the students, then don't go where the kids are. If you don't like the messes, then get over it. But all of this POLITICALLY CORRECT B.S. is for the birds. The University has been here longer than ANY of us. The University provides us with the foundation we love. If it did not, then we/you would not live here. Don't sit back on your ceramic throne and pick and choose what you do like and what you don't. Get over yourself and get along with the masses.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 3:21 p.m.

A better comment has not been written rusty shackelford - seriously people, lets focus bridges that are in disrepair and police and fire officers being let go. Let people have some fun and paint the rock.

Haran Rashes

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 3:19 p.m.

I have a vague recollection of the city stripping all of the paint off of the Rock about ten or fifteen years ago. Isn't there a plaque underneath all of that paint dedicating the rock to the bicentennial of George Washington's birth from the year the rock was placed at that corner?

Jay Allen

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 3:17 p.m.

I REALLY want to go off on this but it'll do zero good as it will get pulled. Seriously folks, open your eyes. This is part of the passive movement to "beautify" Ann Arbor. First it is the couch ban that is masked by a death and the city do-rights will milk that cow until the heifer is dead. Now the rock? What did some AA transplant get up on the wrong side of the bed? For crying out loud. What's next? The Bell Tower? Zingerman's? The Union? South University street past the Law Quad? Dominic's? The Graffiti Wall? The rock has been there as long as I can remember. My dad took a picture of me at 4 years of age next to the rock. Thus I now it has been there for 43 years. For these "residents" to get all up in arms, uh, too bad. The rock was there LONG before YOU and if it upsets you, then you should have had the BRAINS to think about it BEFORE you ordered the title work. I seriously cannot believe this is even discussion material.......

Elaine F. Owsley

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 3:12 p.m.

Great placement that the Anderson Paint Store ad precedes this story.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 3:09 p.m.

"All those people knew the rock was there when they bought their houses"? What if it really was a pebble when they bought their houses? Might they not have noticed it? Seriously, we love living in the A2 area. Notice the word "area". You could not pay me to live in the areas that students and frats live in, for the very reason that they make a lot of noise, toss trash everywhere, etc. That's why I don't live there. It's nice to visit, but...


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:58 p.m.

Many years ago, you would be arrested if caught painting the rock. If you were a student, you could be given the heave ho or probation at a minimum. I speak from experience.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:57 p.m.

Another headline grabbing article. Why not tell that in 2009 about $100 might might have been spent! And that no regular maintenance time is spent unless there is something offensive! Did anyone follow the link to the Daily non-story? Anyone upset by the painting of the rock has to be senile or worse!


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:56 p.m.

Oh puh-leeaase. All those people knew the rock was there when they bought their houses. Get over it. Surely you can think of something better to moan about, and as well. On the more important topic of the actual diameter of the original rock. I feel confident that some of the faculty in the College of Engineering could take an ultrasonic system designed for QC applications in manufacturing out there and make a reasonable estimate. Xray might be better, but less portable. Maybe an eddy current detector? Nah, the paint is probably too thick. When they have some results this might actually be worth a story :- )


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:47 p.m.

As a University of Michigan alumnus I consider the city's bridge on Stadium Boulevard over State Street an "eyesore" and demand the removal of it immediately.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:45 p.m.

I love this rock. Point it out to all visitors. Most anywhere around campus has noise going on late, I'm really glad it's painting a rock instead of a thousand worse possibilities.

Rosemary Blackman

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:41 p.m.

God forbid we'd keep anything that might require some upkeep and minor inconvenience. "The Rock" has brought gigles and smiles to many a student/resident in town. I would venture to guess it was there long before most residents of the immediate area and the cost is a pitance in the whole scheme of things.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:41 p.m.

it's not really a's the tip of a buried alien spacecraft that is perpetually contaminating the surrounding area with brain-altering rays that cause: sly behavior at the grocery store and excessive label-reading, birkenstocks-with-socks, food-blogitis, grammar errors, compulsive posting on comments, inability to move from Ann Arbor for longer than 5 years without great difficulty.

Elaine F. Owsley

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:38 p.m.

Oh, lighten up!!! It wouldn't be Ann Arbor, I guess, if they weren't moaning about SOMETHING. There are worse things in the world than slapping paint on a boulder.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:37 p.m.

It seems like A2 wants to be a college town until it has to deal with things that come with being a college town. Lighten up people! The rock is a great tradition. It functions as an unofficial "entrance sign" to the campus area. Students love getting to paint the rock. Don't take it away from them. Any "neighbors" complaining about this should consider their own actions. The rock has been around longer than most of them. They knew what they were getting when they moved into the area.

Phil Dokas

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:35 p.m.

Not that I think anything need be done, but if noise and trash in that neighborhood are the sore spots then the rock is hardly the #1 problem. Hang out in the area on a Friday or Saturday night between 10pm and 2am and you'll see something far louder than a small group spray-painting the rock.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:26 p.m.

PS @tdw-When you figure out the depth, you should write your own piece. We'll all read it and commend your efforts while other's mock your ability to manage your time wisely.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:23 p.m.

Must be a slow news day. We're not regurgitating the beat-it-till-it's-dead Rock discussion, Seriously? We have a few semi-interesting, not that destructive, local features that our students love, as well as us townies. I personally get a kick out of seeing what The Rock's trending topic is for the day. Do you think I'd rather see some benches with more Liberty Street homeless types on the corner as I jog by? We're a college town, the students feed our local economy and my salary. For a Michigan city, we're doing not heinously bad, thanks to the students the pile in here every year. And they love that rock. What's next, trying to rid them of their pesky eyesore porch couches? Oh. Wait. C'mon, find some local group to do some clean up and kwitchyerdamnbellyaching. Heck, I'll even help. And if you buy me lunch, I'll save you your 2,500k.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:22 p.m.

tdw, for years I have told friends that it started out as a pebble. the rest is paint.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:12 p.m.

Simple solution: move the rock to the diag. It's really a university tradition, it belongs on university ground. University can pay for clean up, but ideally you stick it somewhere that it's not a big deal. Other schools (e.g. Carnegie Mellon) have very similar traditions, and they're great fun and very worthwhile to preserve. But if residents don't like it there...then MOVE IT!


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:10 p.m.

@tdw: I know. I have always wanted to stick an apple corer in that paint and just see how deep and how many layers there just might be.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:05 p.m.

Leave it alone. Money has been spent in worse ways, no doubt.

Linda Peck

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 2:01 p.m.

It is an eyesore for sure. That is about all it is. Oh, that and a tiny bit of mischief. I am fairly frugal with my money and do feel that a couple of grand is not a small amount.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 1:46 p.m.

Perhaps a little off topic here but does anyone have an idea how think that paint is? I'm thinking the rock itself is about the size of a walnut


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 1:45 p.m.

Really? $2,500 to clean? Really? The same city that installs $1M dollar are work and this cost $2,500? I mean, really?

rusty shackelford

Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 1:26 p.m.

Seriously folks, check this story out. It is the ideal reader's story. It has all the classic elements: epicly low stakes, young people doing something mildly annoying, the city spending money on something, city administrators unable to completely address a question, anti-university class resentment. The possibilities for umbrage are limitless!