Fairy Doors Get Political

Slogans like Black Lives Matter and Everyone Belongs here pop up on the pint-sized doors.


Photo courtesy Renee Macalino Rutledge

Three years ago, business owner Fred Hogenboom and his granddaughter Serena made a fairy door in his garage and put it up in his Bronze Coast Alameda neighborhood. The project was a way to bond and build something together, but what they created turned out to be much larger than a 4-by-3-inch block of wood. Hundreds of fairy doors have sprung up around the Island since. Collectively, they are one of the city’s charming characteristics and a beloved tradition to find, make, and share.

“In the last three years, we have made probably over 100 doors … I always tell people we do it for the smiles from the people that find them,” Hogenboom said. “We now have many helpers young and old who have joined in making and embellishing the doors.”

The embellishments, which include colorful paint, decorated windows, flower-lined walkways, table settings, and whimsical garden plots, are what make every fairy door unique. This year, more fairy doors have begun including signs with political statements, like “Black Lives Matter” and “Everyone Belongs Here.” To some members of the Alameda Island Fairy Doors Facebook group, the commentary represents a sad detour from the fun and carefree nature of the doors.

Hogenboom agreed. “You put the doors so low on the poles or trees [because the] audience is 3 feet tall. I do not think [they] would understand or care about the political agenda of those who choose to express those views.”

Photo Courtesy Renee Macalino Rutledge

Alameda's fairy doors get political

A street artist who goes by the name “Mows” started installing dozens of custom-built, mouse-sized doors on curbs, walls, and telephone poles in the Bay Area before the trend took off in Alameda. Responsible for many of the Island’s earliest door installations, Mows calls Hogenboom “the father of the fairy doors” but has a different perspective on their significance.

“I got into these doors as installed street art. Street art has a very long history of being used as a medium for political discourse,” Mows said. “I think it is a good thing that fairy doors are too.”

Every fairy door tells a story, so it’s no surprise the doors are as diverse as the residents of the Island. It’s part of what makes them so special.

Ederlyn Lugue, an Alameda mom who maintains the map of the fairy doors for the Facebook group, said she has noticed the doors expanding and getting more creative on a personal level, whether they’re expressing an artistic talent, political views, or the commemoration of a late pet. Lugue and her family enjoy every door they encounter and take them as an opportunity to open up conversation.

“My son hasn’t seen any with the [political] signage on the doors yet, but I’m sure when he does see one, he’ll be curious to what they mean, and I’ll be glad to explain it to him,” Lugue said.

With opinions varying over the signs, Mows said he worried that divisions in the news today will now extend themselves to the little doors. “These doors are an expression of creativity, and as such, people will use them as a platform to express opinions,” he said. “Will the political conversation remain civil, or will there develop ‘hunting parties’ to destroy the message people disagree with?”

One thing’s for certain: The current crop of fairy door signs are meant to be positive; they stand up for LGBTQ or POC rights, claim “every hour is happy hour,” and wish passersby to “have a nice day.”

If you want to add your fairy’s voice to the conversation, Lugue recommended printing your message from your computer, sandwiching it on a toothpick, and using clear packing tape to weatherproof it. 

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