HAYWARD -- Two yardlong footprints are all that remain of Big Mike at the spot where the 20-foot-tall fiberglass giant stood sentinel for decades on Mission Boulevard.
The iconic "Muffler Man" -- who fans believe originally was installed holding an enormous scrubber back in the 1960s to advertise a carwash -- disappeared late last week. Witnesses said he was dismembered before being loaded onto a truck.
"They chopped his head off," said Jessica Sanchez, who works at a nutrition store across the street from the shuttered tire shop where Big Mike once stood. "It took about four hours for them to load him up."
Real estate agent Steve Crane, who is handling the sale of the foreclosed property near the northern edge of town, said a Hayward man bought Big Mike.
"He has genuine great intentions to restore it back to a very nice condition and preserve his class and position," Crane said, referring to Mike's prominence as a local celebrity.
Crane wouldn't identify the buyer or say whether Big Mike would eventually be back on public display. Neither city officials nor the Hayward Area Historical Society know what's become of him; however, there have been reported sightings of a gigantic torso on a trailer around Castro Valley with an arm protruding from beneath a tarp.
Diane Curry, curator for the historical society museum, said they'd love to have Mike, possibly in an icon garden and in the company of items like a Doggie Diner
"Everyone has memories of Mike," she said. "I remember going down Mission when I was little. I always knew how close we were to the mall by when we passed the Muffler Man."
Vickie Morris Mendoza wrote on www.roadsideamerica.com, the website dedicated to the fiberglass giants, that her family erected Mike. He's a Paul Bunyan, one of a host of larger-than-life characters known as Muffler Men because their hands are positioned to hold a car's exhaust system or an enormous tool.
"We owned Morris Car Wash," she wrote. "I remember the day he went up ... it was so cool."
She wrote that Mike was the victim of a prank years ago, when some ne'er-do-wells toppled him by cutting the cables that attached him to the building.
"Poor giant landed right across Mission Boulevard," she wrote. "Shut the street down most of the day."
Mike wasn't a hit with everybody. Some saw him as a tacky doorman at the entrance to town, not the best greeter for Hayward.
Richard Patenaude, a city planner who drafted Hayward's historical preservation ordinance, said it's fairly typical for eye-catching gimmicks such as Mike to generate varied reactions.
"People think, 'God, what are they trying to do here?'" he said. "But over time, people start to think it's kind of interesting, and it becomes a unique part of the environment."
Sanchez, from the nutrition store near the former Mike site, said that in addition to being a camera magnet, he also served some practical purposes -- as shelter from the rain or sun for people at a nearby bus stop and as a can't-miss locator.
"That's how we tell our customers how to find us," she said. "We're in front of the big giant guy."