Unraveling the mystery of the Danny DeVito shrine


Zach Snyder, Zack Lara, Helen O’Neal and Saylen Cardoni, Acalanes High School

  They approached the entrance cautiously, while the footprints of tomb raiders dotted the ground leading up to the grate. Randall Takahashi and Edgar Gonzalez, clad in their maintenance uniforms, lit a torch and leapt into the darkness. Electric lights illuminated a path of Bloomberg 2020 signs and fresh footprints etched in the ancient dirt. At the end of the tunnel, a familiar, chubby face smiled back at them.

   Acalanes High School administrators unearthed a secret shrine dedicated to actor Danny DeVito on Dec. 17 after investigating video footage of students climbing out of a maintenance grate near the school’s 200 wing.

   Acalanes staff previously paid little attention to the grates that led directly into the abandoned tunnels below the school, but on Dec. 17, Acalanes Finance Secretary Michele Setterbo and Acalanes Head Custodian Francisco Lopez encountered two unidentified students between the end of the 200 wing and the staff parking lot leaving the vicinity of one of the grates.

   “We had an eyewitness who came to us and said, ‘Hey, I think I just saw some kids come out from this grate.’ We were like, ‘What?,’” Acalanes Associate Principal Mike Plant said. “We got on the cameras and we noticed two kids get out of the grate. We actually could not identify the students.”   

   The following day, Dec. 18, Acalanes Athletic Director and math teacher Randall Takahashi and Acalanes Day-Time Custodian Edgar Gonzalez investigated the tunnel to check if there was anything inside.

   “We were not sure what we were going to find,” Takahashi said. “We were thinking we were going to find [drug] paraphernalia.”

   Gonzalez entered the tunnel first and Takahashi followed closely behind.

   “[Gonzalez] said ‘Oh my lord.’ I thought, ‘Oh, what did he find?’ I go down there and all we see are these lawn signs [for] Michael Bloomberg, who ran for president in 2020. There are these lawn signs in there, maybe around 10 to 12 of them, and then there is this little carton and on it there is a strange picture of Danny DeVito,” Takahashi said.

   After Gonzalez and Takahashi confirmed that there was the Danny DeVito shrine in the tunnel, Acalanes Associate Principal Andrea Powers revealed the finding to Acalanes staff during a meeting on Jan. 5.

   “We were told [about the shrine as a] fun little icebreaker anecdotal story to start off our meeting,” Acalanes Woodshop teacher Mike Pease said. “I was 100 percent intrigued. I could not stop thinking about it.”

   Like many staff members on campus, most students are still unaware of the shrine’s origins.

   “I do not [know the history of it],” Acalanes junior Marco Green said. “That remains a mystery to me and pretty much everybody I have talked to. It is a bit of a school legend. I know it has been here for a while.”

   Although littered in dust and cobwebs, the shrine dates back only three years. Acalanes Class of 2020 alumnus Demetri Leones claims responsibility for having created the shrine along with the help of his friends in September 2019.

   “I saw a viral video on Instagram of these students at school who had found a secret passageway in their school bathroom. You could enter it by moving a locker or a metal object to the side, and it revealed the secret passageway where the students had built a Danny DeVito shrine. They put a ton of candles around it and everything,” Leones said. “I was hanging out with my friends one night after school, and I was thinking about the video and I said that we should put a Danny DeVito shrine somewhere on our campus at Acalanes.” 

   When Leones and his friends heard of the tunnels beneath Acalanes, they decided the underground space would be the best place to erect their Danny Devito shrine, so they began to search for the tunnels.

   “A lot of people had mentioned there are secret tunnels that go under campus and some people said that you can enter them through some area around the greenhouse next to the field,” Leones said. “But when I was walking around with my friends, they pointed out the grates alongside the buildings next to faculty parking. We tried a few of them and the one that worked, we climbed down in it and then roamed around for a while and just saw how deep it went.”

   After discovering the secretive location and gathering the necessary materials, Leones and his friends slipped underneath the school and planted the framed photo of Danny DeVito propped up on an upside-down wastebasket surrounded by small electronic candles. Leones and his friends quickly left the scene, and the legend began. 

   “It was just something we thought was funny that I personally wanted to do to our own school to just make things a little more exciting,” Leones said. “I just thought it was funny and that doing it to our own school would just leave our mark.”

   Although Leones denies telling anyone about the shrine, word of his creation quickly spread through campus. Years after Leones graduated, students still have some knowledge of the secret shrine.

   “I do not know a whole lot about the Danny DeVito shrine,” Acalanes senior Katrina Ortman said. “I have never seen it in person although I have heard stories about it.”

   While most students simply enjoyed these stories, others explored to discover the site for themselves.

   “We found it [after we] talked to a bunch of different kids,” student 1 said. “We went outside school hours and checked the grate because we knew it was around that area. When we found it, we jumped down and went in and kind of just stayed there for a little bit. We filmed some stuff and then we left.”

   Over the years, people added a variety of objects to the shrine. Students decorated the shrine with signs stolen from campus as well as lawn signs from the 2020 presidential election.

   “Can I say whether or not the signs were my idea and doing? I do not know. Who is to say? But I know that people have been down [there], and I have seen it,” Acalanes Class of 2020  alumnus Daniel Wellerstein said. “I am not really sure specifically what people have gotten. I have heard different things, but I know that it changed.”

   As students added their own objects, they have all become a part of the shrine’s expanding legacy.

   “It was just an accidentally collaborative project over time,” Wellerstein said.

   Prior to the administration’s discovery of the shrine, students had varying motivations to find the shrine. While some saw it as a treasure hunt, others sought to defy Acalanes’ regulations.

     For other students, the shrine was a place of worship. Some have formed a deeper connection with Danny DeVito, resembling religious or cult-like affiliation.

   Occasionally, some members of the ‘cult’ and other visitors would leave something of value to pay their respect to Danny DeVito and the shrine.

   “People would leave little trinkets and souvenirs there,” one student said. “I remember leaving $20 bills there and every time I came back, they were gone. I always like to think that Danny DeVito himself took them.”

    In response to finding the shrine and learning about students entering into the tunnels, administration focused on the safety concern of students venturing into unauthorized areas on campus.

   “What we are most interested in, in a situation like that, is what is going on and is it a safety concern,” Plant said. “Once we had investigated it, we saw that every [hall] has a crawl space, but most of them either had a grate that was too heavy, would not move, or was locked. Then this one had a grate that would move so that is why kids were getting under there. We investigated it as a safety concern.”

   To prevent students from continuing to enter into the tunnel, Acalanes staff secured the grate in a similar fashion as the others.

   “The grates [are] locked and the area [will be] cleared,” Powers said. “We are doing this as we do not want to encourage more movement with the grates and underground, especially for safety reasons.”

   While some students are disappointed that Acalanes staff discovered and locked the shrine, they understand the reasoning behind the administrators’ actions.

     As administration officials decide whether to keep, relocate, or remove the shrine, it remains intact beneath Acalanes.

      Although the existence of the Danny DeVito shrine is now public knowledge, its creators suggest the possibility of multiple shrines that have yet to be unearthed. 

   “I don’t want to give too much information away, but who is to say there is not another shrine at some other location around the school that has not been found yet,” Acalanes Class of 2020 alumnus and co-founder of the DeVito shrine Eizak Sanchez said.