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‘Nellie,’ the Fair Oaks Icon

Mar 19, 2024 09:10AM ● By Judy Andrews, photo by Judy Andrews
Nellie the Elephant dresses for every occasion.

FAIR OAKS, CA (MPG) - Shortly after moving into their Fair Oaks home in 2008, Wendy and Brian Branine went searching online for building supplies and discovered an ad for a “free elephant.”

“Who wouldn’t click on the ad?” quipped Wendy. The Branine’s decided they needed to have the 7-foot-tall elephant and brought it home using a neighbor’s truck. After dropping the elephant off in their front yard, the couple drove to the Bay Area to pick up more supplies. When they returned home, they were met with an astounding sight.

“When we drove up, there were cars in the street, kids in the yard, and people were lined up taking photos with our elephant,” shared Wendy. “The neighbors insisted we keep her in the front yard, so we did!”

In fact, the Branine’s designed their new front yard around “Nellie,” who Brian named after a 1983 Toy Dolls punk rock song.

That’s how Nellie the Elephant became an accidental icon and a local landmark.

Today, the smiling elephant is winning awards and was voted “Best Hidden Treasure in Fair Oaks” two years in a row!

“Nellie dresses for all occasions and her outfits are never the same,” said Wendy. The Branine’s turned a third garage into closet space for all of Nellie’s wardrobe supplies, and they often take requests from neighborhood children on what she should wear next.

In 2013, Nellie had a complete makeover. Brian explained how the elephant began to look a little tired following years of children climbing and sitting on her. “A friend helped deconstruct her, and we added brackets for strength and chicken wire to her body,” he shared. “Nellie’s burlap skin was dipped in dry mud covered with several coats of elephant gray paint. To create wrinkles, we used more than 650 binder clips.”

The Branine’s installed and maintain a Little Library next to the elephant with a bench for children to sit and read.

“Nellie is truly an ambassador for our neighborhood and beyond,” said Wendy, adding that people like to stop by and chat or often gather at the Little Library.

The iconic elephant has become so popular, she’s even considered an Historical Landmark in Fair Oaks by Google Maps and a Level 5 Pokemon Gym in Pokemon GO.

“Nellie brings people together and she makes everyone smile,” shared Wendy. “She has truly taken on a life of her own, quite by accident, but much to our delight!”

Nellie elephant Little Library

 Nellie is a neighborhood star! Children love the Little Library, too.