Highway to Hell: The House of Hades “Toynbee” Tiles, Part 2

House of Hades "Toynbee Tile" imprinted on city street, Pittsburgh, PA

House of Hades “Toynbee Tile” #4 (detail), Blvd. of the Allies, downtown

A cautionary tale: Whenever one thinks she or he has reached the end of the metaphorical line and is dangling by the very last fibers above the abyss, know that if you’re successfully converting oxygen to carbon dioxide, you’ve still got a fighting chance. Heck, maybe one day we’ll finally get the high-quality hemp rope N.O.R.M.L. promised us back in the ’90s.

Just a few months back, we bagged what we thought were the very last “Toynbee tiles” in Pittsburgh. Those two little street artworks, both found on Blvd. of the Allies downtown, are actually courtesy of the equally-mysterious House of Hades, which is believed to be either copycat or super-fan, depending on one’s viewpoint. [Our handful of “real” Toynbee tiles are, sadly, long gone.]

linoleum art of city scene at night, imprinted on city street, Pittsburgh, PA

city at night tile (detail), Blvd. of the Allies, downtown

And so, as we said in that post, that was all she seemed to write…err, carve into linoleum and press into the street.

But (yes: there’s always a big but) how wrong a blogger can be! Within mere blocks of those two specimens, we encountered yet another pair of wayward street tiles–apparently from the very same hands. The first of these is on Smithfield Street, right before the bridge; the other just around the corner and up a block on the Boulevard (at Cherry Way).

The former (we’re calling it House of Hades tile #3) includes the exact same message as tile #1 from the previous post: House of Hades / One man versus American media in society ‘2012. This one also has the added ominous zinger To punish them all.

House of Hades "Toynbee Tile" imprinted on city street, Pittsburgh, PA

House of Hades tile #3, Smithfield Street at First Ave.

Tile #4 is a little more difficult to parse. The Toynbee half of it contains what we’ve come to recognize as a naked lady’s shapely gam across the top (there was probably a right leg to go with this left, but it’s gone now), plus some of the familiar big headline text: House of Hades / The resurrection of Toynbee’s idea in society ‘2012. It also contains an extra stanza in relative fine print with the disturbing message I must work harder to punish these butchers for all that they’ve done.

The most unusual thing about #4, though, has to be that it’s also immediately abutting/overlapping yet another linoleum street tile of an entirely different mood and design. This one, vertical in composition with rounded corners, features a night scene in one-point perspective of a car driving toward a stylized big city skyline [notably not Pittsburgh]. A crescent moon hangs overhead against the star-speckled black sky.

It’s probably safe to say this nightscape is not the work of either the Toynbee or House of Hades folks. Aside from the medium itself, it just has none of the tell-tale style elements or apocalyptic messaging. That said, it sure is curious that the two ended up where they did. With all the available, naked pavement out there, how do two road tiles lie nearly right on top of each other? Can’t we all get along!

House of Hades "Toynbee Tile" imprinted on city street, Pittsburgh, PA

The full scene. House of Hades tile #4/nighttime city scene, Blvd. of the Allies at Cherry Way

Are these really the last of the Toynbee (inspired) tiles in Pittsburgh? We sure hope that isn’t the case and we’ll not make the mistake of trying to declare such a truth again. Fool me twice, as they say.

Plus, like that desperate hero watching the fraying strands of her lifeline unspool from its anchor above, we like to think there’s a little more life left in these streets and–with it now legal in 30 states–hemp is on the way. We haven’t given up just yet.


See also: Highway to Hell: The House of Hades “Toynbee” Tiles: (Pittsburgh Orbit, April 9, 2017)

Heavy Petting: The Anthrocon Fursuit Parade 2017

parade marchers in fursuits including large rabbit, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Tongues out, ears up, that’s the way we like to strut. Big bunny and other Fursuit Parade marchers.

Let’s get something straight: there is a lot of fake fur. Short pile like a hiker’s Thermafleece® and the deep shag of a drug lord’s living room carpet; zebra-striped, tiger-blazed, and leopard-spotted; black, white, and every color in-between.

Anthrocon’s annual Fursuit Parade features more plush, fuzzy softness than you’re likely to encounter in a lifetime…or until next year’s convention, whichever comes first. Like the allies storming Omaha Beach, wave after wave of fluffy fixed-faced cartoon cats and permanent growl ear-tagged wolves assaulted the senses and delighted spectators in their relentless pursuit of high-paws parade-route salutations and head patting approval. And we gave it to them–oh yes, we gave it to them.

group of fursuit-wearing parade marchers, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

A handful of the 1,890 different fursuited parade marchers

fursuit costume of cat with glasses in baseball uniform for team Piecats, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Baseball cat: Piecats manager.

fursuits various color dogs, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy? Orange fox* and friends.

Anthrocon, the “world’s largest convention for those fascinated with anthropomorphics” was back in Pittsburgh last weekend for its twelfth consecutive summer meetup and twentieth year overall. For the festival’s annual four-day run, both full-on suited-up furries and the dreaming-of-the-big-time ears-and-tail crowd carouse and kibitz throughout downtown streets. Whether you’re participant or gawker, it’s a lot of fun.

But if you really want to see the fur fly by–as well as witness the hyperbole of furry fandom–ground zero is down by the convention center on Saturday afternoon. There, the annual fursuit parade makes its short route out one door, around a horseshoe-shaped path nearly up to Penn Ave., and the back inside the other wing of the convention center. It draws thousands of local onlookers for their best, closest look at the full technicolor menagerie.

indeterminate fursuit costumes with shirts "#KRUMP" and "#VOGUE", Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Let’s party! Two-thirds of the #TWERK / #KRUMP / #VOGUE crew.

fursuit costume of bear with long rabbit ears, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Grrrrrr. A “crux”*.

fursuits of green and pink bear, blue and white bear, and evening attire fox in wheelchair, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Evening wear fox, blue-and-white tiger hybrid, and psychedelic friend*.

It’s a short route–certainly less than a quarter mile–but getting mummified in the nearly-universal head-to-toe blanket of fuzz and shuffling through stifling July heat and humidity takes the dedication of a marine. Up close right at the mid-point, we could hear participants breaking character to wheeze sotto voce support for each other, “keep going, we’re half-way there.”

Anthrocon’s FaceBook page puts the number at 1,890 participants for this year’s parade and I can tell you, it felt like even more than that. Forty-five straight minutes of uninterrupted disco mice and barbed-wire baseball bat-brandishing bears, seductive lady foxes and goofy tongues-out psychedelic mutts[1].

fursuit costume of bear with baseball bat covered in barbed-wire Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Someone needs to switch to decaf! Barbed-wire baseball bat bear.

fursuit costume of scary rooster with arms extended over head, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Drop nuggets! Atomic rooster FTW.

fursuit costume of white dog with purple features, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Move over, Spuds McKenzie–these dogs came to party.

There is a point, however, when it’s just too much fur. While each and every anthropomorphic costume is its own unique creation, there are a lot more similarities than there are differences. Sure, somebody went crazy with the color palette here and there’s a wacky prop, in-joke, or movie reference there, but it’s remarkable how much of the same each of these animal riffs ends up being.

Not knowing what’s in these (largely much younger) folks minds, the obvious touchstones seem to be the kind of grinning goofiness and high saturation of “classic” Saturday morning cartoons–think Scooby Doo, Deputy Dawg, Mighty Mouse, and Kung Fooey. Parade marchers would not be out-of-place in the worlds of Hanna-Barbera or Sid & Marty Kroft–although the frequent additions of ’90s style rave attire, wink-wink naughtiness, and anime sheen are deployed liberally.

fursuit blue bear costume, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

blue tiger*

group of fursuit-wearing parade marchers, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

parade marchers

fursuit costome of leopard wearing cheerleader outfit, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Go team! Cheerleader cheetah, rollin’ cougar*.

It seems strange that this subculture–as vulnerable and ripe for ridicule as any set of outsiders–would be as internally uniform as it is. (At least, to non-participant.) While the suits are all unique–don’t go looking for one at Target–they’re rarely handmade. Companies like Made Fur You and Kilcodo Costumes charge upwards of several thousand dollars for a full head-to-toe custom outfit that fits within a very narrow cartoon aesthetic. The inspiration may be animals, but this isn’t the world of Marlin Perkins’ Wild Kingdom; other than these few, rare outliers, it’s strictly the prolonged colorful, safe adolescence of Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

So it is a pleasant detour–a relief even–to see the off-script giant shark, an obviously homemade sad dragon, the couple birds with fully-articulated wingspans, and an alien lizard creature in clinking in metallic silver scales. It’s not The Orbit‘s place to tell furries what to do, but just like Chabad’s menorahmobiles, we’d love to see more fans take the costume-making (literally) into their own hands and create something truly original in the process.

homemade fursuit of green dragon head, tail, and gloves, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

A rare homemade (partial) fursuit. Green dragon.

costume with silver metal scales and wings, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Colonel Clink. Silver metal-scaled dragon*.

fursuit costume of dragon in police uniform, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Those don’t look like regulation footwear. Police dragon.

young woman in blood-spattered skirt and blouse, Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Oops…wrong convention! Blood-splattered spoilt Victorian child.

If you’ve seen Fursonas, Dominic Rodriguez’ locally-made 2016 documentary on the furry community, you’ll not soon forget its most controversial figure. “Uncle Kage” (pronounced kah-GAY) comes off as a perpetually deep-pour rosé-swilling megalomaniac who lectures rapt convention-goers on a level of deceitful media manipulation that would make Steve Bannon blush.

In Kage’s mind, the world is out to get the fursuited few, and it is only through a strictly-committed loose lips sink ships effort of Trumpian loyalty and intensely mannered public relations that the community’s lifestyle is able to survive the forces hell-bent on destroying it.

man with lab coat and bullhorn in Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Uncle Kage (with bullhorn) and entourage

So the sight of Uncle Kage closing out the parade in his trademark lab coat, barking an abbreviated version of his patented stream-of-consciousness ranting through a bullhorn–a top hat-wearing lackey in tow–really did give this blogger chills on a hot day.

If Kage’s ultimate goal is acceptance, he’s got it. While the convention is in town, downtown’s burger joints and pizza parlors roll out the red carpet for Anthrocon’s tail-wagging attendees to walk their paws in for supper. Nice, suburban families drive in to take selfies with permanent grin pooch-people. Every local news outlet sends their perky human interest beat reporter to smarm and eyeroll through a two-minute feel good piece.

KDKA News photographer and reporter covering Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

The Orbit wasn’t the only media outlet covering the Fursuit Parade, but at least we weren’t invited. KDKA News.

Whatever goes on behind closed convention-rate Westin Hotel doors is those humanoid badgers’, muskrats’, and flying squirrels’ business. Maybe at one time the fears of freaky, deviant sex got people up in arms, but frankly, I don’t think anybody cares that much–at least, not anymore. There’s just a lot bigger problems in the world than worrying about whether some twenty-somethings are turned-on by polymeric fibers.

We certainly have them–bigger problems, that is–but every year that Anthrocon comes to town and puts on the dog (sorry) for us locals is not one of them. It’s an annual highlight, for sure, as well as a wonderful evolving get-to-know-you mystery in the way all long-term relationships are. Let’s hope it keeps growing.

two children posing for photograph with person in fursuit costume of sabretooth tiger at Anthrocon 2017 Fursuit Parade, Pittsburgh, PA

Good old-fashion family fun. Sabre-toothed tiger and fans.


* Many thanks to Reddit /r/furry community member Shetani (username acinonyxjubatusrex) with help identifying the species represented in these fursuits. Our original post was updated based on Cheetah’s personal knowledge. We appreciate the help.

[1] Having a blown a trombone for well over an hour during last year’s event, this blogger can tell you 2016’s parade was even longer.

Highway to Hell: The House of Hades “Toynbee” Tiles

Street art "Toynbee tile" reading "House of Hades, one man versus American media in society: 2012", Pittsburgh, PA

Pennies for your paranoid thoughts. House of Hades tile #1, Blvd. of the Allies at Market St., Downtown.

The style is exactly the same: linoleum tile, constructed in reverse, and embedded as mosaic into a tar base that is applied directly to road surface. Ultimately, the piece will fuse with street macadam given enough over-rolling traffic to force it into the pavement. Arch messages are cut into rough block capital letters and have a familiar cryptic apocalyptic tone with phrases like House of Hades and Media must be reduced to ash in society.

We know these–they’re the so-called “Toynbee Tiles”…right? The (very literal) street art/paranoia phenomenon has emanated from center city Philadelphia outward for several decades now. They’ve been featured in their own investigative documentary film [Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles (2012)], and–at least at one time–decorated a bunch of streets in the Golden Triangle.

Street art "Toynbee tile" reading "House of Hades, media must be reduced to ash in society: 2012", Pittsburgh, PA

House of Hades tile #2, Blvd. of the Allies at Wood St., Downtown

But…not so fast. For one thing, pretty much every legitimate Toynbee tile in downtown Pittsburgh has vanished from this earth[1]. We chronicled a bunch of these in our stories on The Toynbee Tiles of Smithfield Street and its follow-up Orbit obit to The Last Toynbee Tile on Smithfield Street a year later. The all-things-Toynbee site toynbeeidea.com has a Google map that includes pinpoints for eight different tiles that used to exist on Smithfield, Forbes, Oliver, and Commonweath Place. Under Orbit due diligence, our bicycle- and sidewalk-based researchers criss-crossed downtown and couldn’t locate a single extant tile from this set.

Second, the pair of tiles that arrived on Blvd. of the Allies (photographed here, but not currently on toynbeeidea.com’s map) aren’t strictly “Toynbee”. Whether they’re the work of a copycat, tributes to the original, or just plain doing their own thing (using the same visual language), is a matter of some debate. What’s clear, though, is that these House of Hades tiles have been left by a different crew than the person Resurrect Dead researcher/filmmaker Steve Weinik calls The Toynbee Tiler (“TTT”).

map of downtown Pittsburgh with locations marked for former locations of Toynbee tiles

Red dots mark the former locations of eight Toynbee tiles in downtown Pittsburgh–now all are gone. [map: toynbeeidea.com]

The ominous warning One man versus American media in society certainly comes off as incredibly timely given the current political climate. But in fact these messages go back well before Steve Bannon’s elevation to the White House. Both pieces contain the date 2012. This may or may not be accurate to the time of installation, but that’s around when we first remember tripping across them.

Information on this “House of Hades” is scant. Is it the message or the maker? As these things go, there’s no P.O. box to send your S.A.S.E. into or 800 number to call for a free brochure. ToynbeeIdea.com claims the tiles started appearing in Buffalo some time in the oughts and “look nice, but don’t last long”[2]. That’s not our experience, though. The pair on Boulevard remains nearly perfect five (or more) years on. Of course, we probably don’t have the volume of Philly traffic they’re comparing them to, but it’s still impressive.

street art "Toynbee tile" and buildings of downtown Pittsburgh, PA

Regardless, we’ll re-issue that old Orbit saw and simply say, House of Hades–who- or whatever you are–we’re glad somebody’s still out there carving wacky words, spoons, and lady legs into street decoration and we’re glad you dropped enough morsels in downtown Pittsburgh for us to chew on for a while. If it stops us in our tracks–possibly with oncoming travel barreling forward–makes us wonder, and gives the noodle a twist, well, you’re all right by us.

Oh–and one more thing: while The Orbit may technically qualify as part of “the media” [in its loosest, most pathetic usage], please don’t reduce us to ash just yet. We’ve still got some things we want to cover.

street art "Toynbee tile" and buildings of downtown Pittsburgh, PA


[1] That we know of…but The Orbit is pretty sure this is it. If you know of any other remaining Toynbee tiles in the city, please educate us.
[2] http://www.toynbeeidea.com/house-of-hades/


See also: Highway to Hell: The House of Hades “Toynbee” Tiles, Part 2: (Pittsburgh Orbit, August 6, 2017)

Re:NEW Festival: DRAP-ART

Chinese temples made by artist Gao Yansong from recycled boxes

Gao Yansong “The Chinese Dream Marlboro” and “The Chinese Dream NIKE”

It can’t be easy to light up a brand new festival. Why, you’ve got to do a bunch of planning, organize volunteers, negotiate with venues, talk people into doing umpteen different things, write a grant, create a logo, secure a domain name, and then when the day–or month–finally rolls around, you can only cross your fingers and hope that somebody–anybody–is willing to give your goofy idea a shot. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.

The folks that cooked-up this year’s Re:NEW Festival* weren’t mucking about. The festival spans a full month across a dozen different downtown venues, features a slew of staggered events, long-run gallery shows, lamppost banners, glossy printed materials, and of course, printed t-shirts. Oh, yeah–they also decided to stage the North American premier of a world-renowned international recycled art festival/organization, just so you’ll know they aren’t slacking.

sculpture of tiny skiers on lanscape of recycled circuit board by artist David Martin

David Martín “Ski” (detail)

pendant lamp created by artist Imanol Ossa from piano keys

Imanol Ossa “Piano XL Lamp”

From its web site, DRAP-ART is a Barcelona-based “association of artists who have chosen trash to be their material and/or conceptual resource.” Whether you want to call it recycled or repurposed or straight-up trash, (a term DRAP seems to have embraced) the non-standard (typically) mixed media is front-and-center in almost every piece in the show.

Bic pens and piano keys dangle from pendant lamps, a woman’s mod-inspired go-go dress is created with the pop-tops from aluminum cans and sewn with plastic bag “thread”. There are robots made from deconstructed office equipment and a school of tin can-fashioned fish. Phonograph records are laser cut into birds on telephone wires and brown paper bags become the canvas for ashen drawings of industrial Detroit. Bill Miller [the only local in the bunch and one of just two Americans] turns in an incredible wall-sized mosaic/collage of cut linoleum flooring.

landscape by Irene Wölfl created from recycled plastic

Irene Wölfl “Irgendwo” (detail)

sculpture of red fish created from recycled metal can by artist Orson Buch

Orson Buch “Red Fish”

Artists do this kind of stuff all the time, but what makes the DRAP-ART show so out-of-this-world is the level of craft and the deep exploration of the various recycled media. In these artists’ hands, the use of the discarded materials is no gimmick, but rather act as really great prompts to build truly extraordinary new and fantastic things.

We could go on, but suffice to say, it’s a fantastic and truly inspirational show that is thoroughly Orbit-approved. To use the hoity-toity argot of art academia, it’s a real sock-knocker-offer. In fact, right after seeing the show we ran out to buy some new socks. It’s that good.

detail from large mosaic by Bill Miller created with recycled linoleum flooring

Bill Miller “Steal Mill” (detail)

pendant lamp created from recycled Bic pens by artist Héctor Escudero

Héctor Escudero “PENcil”

Back to those festival organizers. This blogger knows it must have been a huge undertaking to put on and we have no insight into whether attendance and sponsorship made all that worthwhile. That said, not all successes can be measured with a calculator. So we’d just like say we sure hope this first Re:NEW festival can itself be renewed next–or, at least, some future–year. It’s a great idea for an art festival and Pittsburgh is a great place to host it. We hope the public is enjoying it as much as we are.

The Orbit will even go as far as to suggest a title for the come-back: Re:NEW : Re:DUX. Don’t even say anything. By the time you’re ready, it’ll sound great.

three-piece sculpture of square boxes with recycled fencing and bamboo by artist Felip Gaig

Felip Gaig “Els Horts de Sant Vicens”

portrait of Mary Cassatt made from egg cartons by artist Verónica Arellano

Verónica Arellano “Mary Stevenson Cassatt”

A note: We included way more photos in this piece than we normally do in a post, just because there is so much great stuff we’re excited about**. Even so, this is just a small portion of what’s actually set up, beautifully-presented, and even for sale over at the Wintergarden. The show ain’t over yet, but you need to shake a leg–it ends this Saturday. Get your kiester down there and see it for yourself while you still can.

Re:NEW Festival’s DRAP-ART show is at the PPG Wintergarden (PPG1, downtown), through next Saturday, Oct. 8. Admission is free.

sculpture made from recycled ironing board, silverware, and advertising image by artist Karol Bergeret

Karol Bergeret “Camarera” (detail)


* A large-scale collaboration between city arts, tourism, downtown, and reuse organizations including the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, Carnegie Museum of Art, Andy Warhol Museum, Visit Pittsburgh, Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership, Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, Construction Junction, Goodwill, etc.
** And had a hard time not including yet another half dozen photos, but that would just be ridiculous.

Photo Grab Bag: Ghost Sign Roundup

ghost sign with layered text, McKeesport, PA

(unknown), McKeesport

Longtime readers know The Orbit is in the business of making dreams come true–and business is good. It was pointed out by super fan/sometime contributor Lee that probably a lot of folks don’t see the loose photos that end up on The Orbit‘s artsy dark and/or snarky narc pages and maybe we should roll them up into an actual blog post once in a while.

So here you go. Like Cheech and/or Chong, we’ve pulled out the gatefold copy of Fragile and are rounding up and rolling out a first collection of non-specific pictures from the last year or so. Here, they’re grouped on the pseudo-theme of ghost signs. Don’t inhale too deeply.

ghost sign/advertisement for Hipco Batteries, Pittsburgh, PA

Hipco Batteries, Manchester

It’s a bold claim, but the Hipco Batteries ad has to be the city’s greatest ghost sign. The incredible painted image has some classic “vernacular typography”, one giant old school No. 6 dry cell battery, and a sadistic, grinning red devil, his tongue wagging like a pervert from his open, fanged mouth. He’s very excited, with one hand reaching out, palm up, and the other employing a Hipwell flashlight to no doubt look for trouble in the dark.

This begs the question: do devils really need flashlights? Well, we know this one does. Unlike the subjects of every other photo in this post, the Hipwell Manufacturing Company, founded in 1887, amazingly still exists and continues to manufacture a line of flashlights (but no longer batteries) right in this big old brick building on West North Avenue[1].

ghost sign for former La Salle Electric, Pittsburgh, PA

La Salle Electric, Manchester

The pair of conjoined industrial buildings that once housed La Salle Electric, just off Brighton Road in Manchester, were torn down earlier this year. Now there’s just a re-grassed vacant lot where they used to be. Whatever prompted that action, it’s sad for a lot of reasons–mainly that we’ve got a limited supply of this kind of late 19th century industrial buildings out there and it’s a bummer to lose two of them in one fell swoop.

Here, we can only focus on the relatively minor loss of this great ghost sign, painted across the point where the two buildings met. You can see the red brick side appears to have shifted ever so slightly, distorting the alignment of the white background and breaking the A in “Salle”. And what a great pair of arrows! The office is that way, you can pick up your stuff on the other side. Ugh. I mean, the office used to be that way…

ghost sign for former Regent Sportswear Shop, Pittsburgh, PA

Regent Sportswear (and Wig Shop?), East Liberty

The rear entrance to the former Regent Sportswear Shop doesn’t have what we usually consider “ghost signs”, but still seems like it ought to count. Regent’s 3-D sign, the typeface in Wigs, and the multi-color blue/gray/white brick treatment all suggest a 1960s/70s makeover to a building that probably goes back to the very early 1900s. Somewhere out there is a person who bought a terrycloth track suit or tried on someone else’s hair at Regent’s and we sure hope this last reminder in the Kirkwood Street alley makes him or her feel something. Hopefully that feeling is not, you know, “itchy”.

ghost sign reading "Sal's Meats Since 1921", Ambridge, PA

Sal’s Meats, Ambridge

Sadly, Sal’s Meats, like most of the businesses in Ambridge, ain’t there any more. But at least we’ve still got this great ghost sign. Painted signs don’t get any graphically stronger than bold red text on a white background, painted fifteen feet across on a deep red brick wall. Sal’s Meats, since 1921. ‘Nuf sed.

ghost sign for former Penn Bowling Lanes, Pittsburgh, PA

Penn Bowling Lanes, Downtown

What a time when the downtown worker could bowl ten frames over a lunch break! This literal back alley entrance on Exchange Way (between Liberty and Penn, downtown) suggests the bowling may have taken place in the basement, but who knows? Heck, maybe those wooden lanes, pin-setters, ball returns, and beer taps are all still down there, covered in forty years of dust. Either way, we’re glad no one felt the need to paint over this incredible patchwork wall with its reminder of old Pittsburgh.

ghost sign for Dr. D.E. Earley, Optometrist, New Martinsville, W. Va.

Dr. D.E. Earley, Optometrist, New Martinsville, W. Va.

Last winter, we made a special stop for the mind-boggling buffet at Quinets Court in the fine little West Virginia town of New Martinsville (about 90 minutes from Pittsburgh–and well worth the trip)[2]. The inevitable post-gorge belt-loosening constitutional yielded some fine views of the Ohio River and a bunch of great little oddities in the four-block downtown stretch. This ghost sign for Dr. D.E. Earley, Optometrist looks like it could go back a hundred years. That’s a long time to wait to get your eyes examined and glasses fitted, but then again, you’ve got a steam tray full of Quinets cobbler two blocks away. I can think of worse ways to spend a century.

Former storefront for G's Restaurant and Pizzeria, Pittsburgh, PA

G’s Restaurant and Pizzeria, Downtown

Bathed in low winter sunlight, made awkwardly diffuse by scaffolding and construction fence, this photo of the former G’s Restaurant and Pizzeria on Forbes Ave. got shoehorned into an update story on the last remaining Toynbee Tile on Smithfield Street and the face of a rapidly changing downtown Pittsburgh. But we felt like there was a little more to say here.

G’s Restaurant, along with the former Honus Wagner Sports building next door, were razed earlier this year. Point Park University is building a big new performance arts building/theater on the property. This will no doubt be a great cultural asset, but The Orbit‘s going to miss this pair of early 1900s terra cotta storefronts, each with their own goofy mid-century add-ons.


[1] See article: In The Spotlight: Hipwell Manufacturing (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 10, 2002) for the full story.
[2] The Orbit actually needs to make the trip to Quinets again for a full review–or even if just for that eggplant parm, and the kielbasa and kraut, and the fried chicken, and the haluski, and the brown sugar sweet potatoes, and the butterscotch pie, and the…

Art/Work: Big Industry Art

mural of abstract steel mills on brick wall, Hill District, Pittsburgh, PA

Mural, Hill District

They’re striking images. Tall stacks belching a blanket of smoke that blacks out the sky. Grim men with lunch pails and work shirts. A cauldron of molten metal is poured against a skyline of towering steel vessels. The tools and symbols of power generation: hydroelectric, relay tower, a key struck by lightening. Three ironworkers team up to hammer a bar of hot steel on an anvil as beams of radiant energy stream out, ostensibly the only light source in an otherwise unlit workshop.

tile mosaic depicting various industry and innovation from commercial building in Bloomfield, Pittsburgh, PA

Mosaic, Bloomfield

Mural of steelworker, downtown Pittsburgh, PA

(light-up) Mural, Downtown

Somewhere between social realism and folk art lies the realm of steel town tributes to the workers and industries that built them. The mills are (almost) all gone–as are the coke plants, glass and aluminum producers, bridge builders and pipe rollers. But you wouldn’t know it from the public art that still exists–and continues to get created anew–all over the place.

The depictions are of landscapes and people that many Americans wouldn’t choose to decorate with: rusting blast furnaces, smoke-spewing chimney stacks, utility infrastructure, big men–and they are almost always men–working hard.

Mural depicting workers with lunch pails emerging through the pedestrian tunnel to PPG's Ford City, PA plant

Mural, Pittsburgh Plate Glass workers, Ford City

Painting of steel mill and workers with metal and neon lights mounted to brick wall, Braddock, PA

Mixed (mural with neon lights and metal sign), Braddock

Much of “new” Pittsburgh would rather not talk about the steel industry. The air has been cleaned-up (sort of*), there’s a workforce teeming in eds, meds, and….TEDs (?) over yesteryears’ union laborers, and–amazingly–we’re getting some amount of national attention on things like quality of life, affordability, and fancy food. Famously down-on-itself Pittsburgh is even starting to believe some of the hype. Civic boosters and young urbanites want to put those big smokestacks and ginormous rolling mills as far as they can in the rearview mirror.

Thankfully, though, there’s a great reverence for the people and industries that built the region. In fairness, there’s also just a lot more visual power and romance to it. It’s hard to imagine similar wall-sized tributes to tech workers, robot engineers, bankers, heart surgeons, or academics. That said, The Orbit has long considered itself the Joe Magarac of blogs**–so if you’ve got some bare bricks, give us a call. Like Norma Desmond, we’re ready for our close-up.

Mural painted on cinderblock wall of iron workers hammering hot steel on an anvil, Red Star Iron Works, Millvale, PA

Mural, Red Star Iron Works, Millvale


* The actual quality of the air is still a mess–you just can’t see the problem quite so obviously any more.
** Or at least the Joe Pesci of blogs. You think this blogger is a clown?

Lord Stanley’s Cupboard

Boy with homemade Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh Penguins 2016 victory parade

To win the Stanley Cup–the legendary trophy of professional hockey’s ultimate championship–is quite a feat. The Pittsburgh Penguins played 106 grueling matches between October 8 and last Sunday, finally besting the San Jose Sharks to become National Hockey League champs of the 2015-16 season. It is the team’s fourth Stanley Cup victory since its inception in 1967.

Woman with homemade Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh Penguins 2016 victory parade

It turns out, though, that to own a Stanley Cup isn’t nearly as difficult. All it takes is a five gallon paint bucket, one medium salad bowl, some duct tape, and a roll of tin foil. Phil Kessel and Patric Hörnqvist no doubt put in countless hours–hell, years–training, conditioning, and carbo-loading for this honor–and they don’t even get to keep the cup! For Jane or Joe Fan, a well-focused half hour in the basement can bring home a fine facsimile of hockey’s ultimate prize. This efficiency even leaves time for some optional carbo-loading of their own. Many of these D.I.Y. Stanley Cups made the trip downtown for the Penguins victory parade on Wednesday.

Man with homemade Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh Penguins 2016 victory parade

It’s a curious motivation, bringing your own faux Stanley Cup to a parade featuring the real deal. What if, say, Michael Rapaport or Curtis Armstrong showed up at the Academy Awards with an “Oscar” homemade from the top of a bowling trophy? Or if, I don’t know, Limp Bizkit or Hoobastank loitered outside the Grammy awards ceremony with the woofer from a boombox nailed into their mother’s jewelry case? Maybe they do–heck, this blogger hopes they do! It would definitely be cool, but also a little weird.

Woman with homemade Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh Penguins 2016 victory parade

Regardless, the fans that create these tribute trophies are obviously dedicated beyond the run-in-the-mill “Gold Rush” shirt-sporters or “White Out” towel-wavers. They sacrificed an eight-quart mixing bowl and a day of vacation to go to town with 400,000 like minds and at least a couple dozen other not-fooling-anyone Stanley Cups. The Orbit wholeheartedly salutes them, their enthusiasm, and their creativity. May we fill Pittsburgh’s cupboards with Lord Stanley’s dishware.

Man with homemade Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh Penguins 2016 victory parade

Hand made banner hung from window reading "Welcome Home Lord Stanley", Pittsburgh Penguins 2016 victory parade

Welcome home, Lord Stanley, we have much of your dishware.