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Couple plants cars in yard

Some folks stick whirling plastic flowers or gnome statues in their yards, but David Jones' and Tony Balistreri's taste in lawn ornaments veers from the path of convention.

The couple, which owns a home in Riverwest, 2659 N. Humboldt Blvd., has three cars "planted" in its front yard: a 1959 Cadillac, a 1930 Model A Roadster and a '69 Volkswagen Beatle.

Balistreri, owner of Downtown Autobody on Holton Street, originally planned to restore the Caddy in honor of his deceased father who loved Cadillacs. However, he quickly realized that the interior was beyond repair even though the auto's exterior was in great shape.

So he did what anyone in that situation would do: He sawed the car in half and planted both pieces in his yard.

Balistreri and Jones hooked up the head and taillights, which still glow every evening, and tried to get their dryer exhaust to waft through the tailpipe and create the illusion of smoke.

"That was a disaster," laughs Jones. "We ended up blowing one of our dryers."

But the fun had only just begun.

A few years later, Balistreri found the Model A inside a badly burned barn in rural Wisconsin. Parts of the car were melted, but Balistreri bought it anyway and sunk it into the yard.

Finally, they purchased a 1969 Volkswagen and sawed it in half just as they had the Cadillac, but this time, they butted the front end of the car against their privacy fence, cut a whole in the fence, and made it into a hangout space for their three dogs.

"When you walk by, sometimes the dogs are behind the wheel of the VW and it looks like they're driving," says Jones.

Roughly three people stop by every day to snap photos of the unqiue landscape. Some knock on the door and ask if it's okay to stand in the yard for a photo shoot.

"It's always fine with us," says Jones.

Jones says his favorite aspects of the "car art" is that it inspires people to slow down and even stop on their way somewhere else.

"One woman told me her son makes her drive by our house everyday on their way home from school so he can see the cars. Other people have said any time they have relatives here from out of town they drive by the house," says Jones.

But community camaraderie is not the only aspect Jones appreciates about his unique yard.

"I love the novelty and the absurdity," he says.

The house appeared in many magazines in the United States and as far away as Australia. Locally, it's become a Milwaukee landmark, similar to the "Boat House" on Milwaukee's East Side. Jones says he once saw a party invitation that read "our house is two doors south of the house with the cars in the yard."

"It's been a great ride," he says. "And I would do it all over again."

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