Something Fishy: Angling for the East End Dangler

boy with tree twig and strand of toy fish

The littlest Dangler angler with another clue from the trail, East Liberty

It started, as these things do, with just a single incident. Back in the early fall, out on an afternoon constitutional, the crew came across a curious sight. Tangled in the mid-level branches of a street tree on Centre Avenue was a six-inch plastic tiger shark, hanging by a length of rough twine tied around her tail fin. Following the string led to a purple dolphin, then a starfish, and so forth. Six miniature sea creatures in all, very much out of water, and awkwardly tossed into the leafy undergrowth just above head level.

strand of plastic toy fish tied together with twine and hanging from tree branches, Pittsburgh, PA

exhibit #1 aka “two sharks,” as found in East Liberty, Sept. 2017

As we’ve mentioned before, Orbit staff maintain a strict do-not-disturb policy when it comes to street art, pranks, and other happenstance findings in the public sphere. Our interns do not always abide by the same code of conduct.

Such was the case on this day, as cub reporter Lee extracted the string of toys from the overhead branches and brought it back home for further examination. While that felt very much like disturbing the scene of a crime way back in September, it would prove eerily prescient. It was only just recently that we became aware this was no isolated incident.

That’s right: Pittsburgh has a repeat offender on a loose and he, she, or they have struck enough times to warrant serial status. The East End Dangler walks among us, covertly decorating the city’s flora with strange garlands of (mostly) plastic fish.

6 plastic sea creature toys connected by twine

exhibit #1 aka “two sharks,” found on Centre Ave., East Liberty

Nearly seven months after that initial encounter, we were certainly in for a surprise. Walking back to the office on a chilly early spring afternoon–the belly still reeling from a lunch of huevos con chorizo con tortillas con frijoles con arroz y unlimited chips–to see a tiny die-cast aeroplane poking its propeller schnoz out of the newly-cut grass. On retrieval, we found the same tell-tale twine knotted around the plane’s tiny tail and rudder. It wasn’t until just this moment that the connection between aircraft design and sea life anatomy became so perfectly clear–but let’s stay on topic.

Our very same cub reporter not only identified the toy as “Dusty Crophopper” from Disney’s Planes but also spotted a tiny rubber fish nearby. The squishy little fellow was dislodged from the strand when its tail broke off, but in an unlikely and gruesome turn of events, the dismembered body part was still caught in the twine to confirm the relationship.

toy airplane on string of twine

exhibit #3 aka “Dusty Crophopper,” (partial) found on Centre Ave., East Liberty

The revelation that the string of sharks was not a one-time deal would have–should have–been enough, but we were in for a couple more shocks. Mere feet away–O.K., maybe one or two hundred of them–was another bare tree with another set of dangling fish. In this case, two bug-eyed, cartoonish blue fish and one tiny red-orange fellow. Unlike the previous two marks of The Dangler, this trio was connected by wire (not twine) and thrown way up high, out of arm’s reach, but well within eyesight.

plastic fish toys strung together with wire and hanging from tree limb, Pittsburgh, PA

exhibit #4 aka “blue fish,” as found in East Liberty, April, 2018

Attentive readers are already yelling at their mobile devices, hopefully not in public restrooms. How did you jump from exhibit #1 to exhibits #3 and #4? What kind of amateur-hour investigation are your running around here?

Ah–that’s where the plot thickens! Lee had already bagged exhibit #2 (aka “orange fish”) and just never filed his paperwork. Way out of the relatively-small perimeter we were working, this yang to “blue fish’s” yin [three fish, the little one in the middle, single color scheme, wire connector–orange and blue are even opposites on the color wheel!] hung from a tree along Browns Hill Road, miles from Centre Avenue.

three plastic fish hanging from wire in a bare tree

exhibit #2 aka “orange fish,” as found on Browns Hill Road, April, 2018 [photo: Lee Floyd]

Like Ed Gein and Ted Kaczynski, Rudy Giuliani and Pauly Shore, we may never know what motivates The East End Dangler to do what they do. In lieu of any hard evidence on the person behind the dangling, we’re left with just the physical items: toys–specifically fish toys–and location.

On that first point, one popular theory holds that the perp is a parent, the child or children having aged out of their fish phase and into teenage alienation. What to do with those leftover sharks, goldfish, and neon tetras but string them up and throw them in city trees? A little goofy, but more unlikely events happen around us every day.

3 toy fish connected by wire

exhibit #4 aka “blue fish”, found on Centre Ave., East Liberty

These may also be the work of a prankster or frustrated conceptual artist. The nearby Goodwill on Centre likely offers an ample supply of second-hand toys at by-the-pound prices. If decorating trees with Happy Meal castoffs is your thing, it can be done easily and at bargain rates. As art? Well, it beats spray paint tagging.

A third opinion holds that we’ve got deeper symbolism here–something very specifically fish-related. All three of the Centre Ave. finds are within rock-tossing distance of the East Liberty Whole Foods; “orange fish” was spotted adjacent to the Hokkaido Seafood Buffet restaurant. It doesn’t take Hercule Poirot to connect these particular dots. Whether the Dangler might be addressing mercury in the food chain or the Pacific Ocean’s plastic vortex is unclear, but lines can certainly be drawn.

3 toy fish connected by wire

exhibit #2 aka “orange fish,” found on Browns Hill Road

We may never know…or this may just be the beginning of the conversation. If you’ve noticed the work of The East End Dangler (literally) hanging around a tree you frequent, please let us know. Until then, to paraphrase Casey Kasem, keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the fish in the trees.


BREAKING NEWS: On the eve of going to press, The Dangler dropped another bombshell on us. There, in those same Centre Avenue street trees hangs yet another dangled concoction. This one appears to be just two toy airplanes, one a bulbous, cartoonish propeller; the other, a second Dusty Crophopper. As of this writing, the dangled bits remain tree-side.

toy airplane hanging from wire in tree limbs

exhibit #5 as found in East Liberty, May, 2018

Born Again: The Babyland Totems

sculpture of black plaster head with fake white hair and flowers attached to utility pole

street totem by twilight

Those eyes! Wide open, wild as the wind, staring straight back at–no, through–you. The steely glare cuts right into the cold, dark, February night. Evocatively–as if arranged by set designers on a commercial shoot–the ice blue of those peepers echoes the color of rain-slicked Negley Avenue reflecting the deep indigo sky above. It’s only just six o’clock, but it may as well be midnight.

sculpture of black plaster head with flowers attached to wood

bean baggie baby on board

The Babyland Totems don’t always look quite so startling. But even in broad daylight they’re an exciting and unnerving collection of figures to come across purely by accident. Most of the little objets d’art feature plaster cloth-formed humanoid faces, painted either black or brown, and decorated with curly hair, red lips, and, of course, those pale blue eyes.

Each of the softball-sized heads projects from a bundle of colorful fake flowers within a decorative cloth wrap that serves as the little icon’s body. Random accessories–a beanbag, plastic barrettes, a toy army tank–make their appearances, too.

sculpture of black plaster head with fake flowers

verbena tiara

The effect is very much that of the youngest babies, released from the womb, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and surrounded by the magic and love of a new life. It’s hard to tell how content these little fellows are–some appear to be smiling, for sure, but others are mid-scream. We’ve all seen real-life infants taking the same wide range of emotions.

plaster head with fake flowers resting on brick window ledge

window ledge widow’s walk

At the same time, one cannot help but think of these as memorials. Close one eye, tilt your head, and almost every one of the totems takes the form of a simple cross. That familiar shape, the reverent individual attention, and those pink, white, and purple flowers remind us of fresh decorations on grave markers or the all-too-common roadside crosses that appear seemingly out-of-nowhere on the berms of highways and grassy undergrowth along busy through-streets.

The Orbit has spent enough time in and around graveyards to know that grounds crews routinely flush these kinds of plastic flowers–along with the accumulated teddy bears, deflated balloons, and past-date holiday decorations–a couple times a year. If some of Allegheny Cemetery’s fall cleanup ended up here–instead of the landfill–well, we can’t think of a better (re-)use of the material.

skull and bell attached to utility pole

skull’s out for summer

Babyland, the all-things-newborn supply shop, served Pittsburgh’s East End for over sixty years[1]. For anyone who was in the area before, say, the late oughts, you’ll not soon forget the circular cartoonish images of babies pulling their own diapers down that used to decorate the outside brickwork. Those were replaced by actual photos of super cute tykes not too long before the business closed in 2012. The squat retail space at the corner of Penn and Negley has been sitting vacant ever since.

Unlike some places in town, this will inevitably change fast–in fact, it’s amazing the little building at this prominent intersection hasn’t been razed for the next set of Legoland condos or a fluorescent-lit fast casual chain restaurant already. Development has come loud and hard to East Liberty and the Penn Avenue corridor and we all know there’s plenty to memorialize even where it hasn’t actually happened…yet.

sculpture of black plaster head with golden hair and flowers attached to utility pole

totem/pole

The other obvious–and most important–side to all this is the continuing story of displacement and eviction of East Liberty’s population. From the old Babyland location, one merely has to look east, across Negley Ave., to see a completely denuded landscape where the big Penn Plaza apartment complex stood for the last 50 years. The fallow ground is now an otherworldly red-brown as crushed brick mixes roughly 50/50 with barren soil.

Had the Babyland artist wished to eulogize Penn Plaza instead, he or she couldn’t (at least, not in the same way)–there’s nothing left to even hang a piece of artwork on. [In fairness, there is one set of steps, their handrails, and a full perimeter of chain link fence–but you get the idea.]

stairway leading down to large empty lot

former Penn Plaza apartments lot, East Liberty

In the last two years, Penn Plaza has gone from a large, lived-in pubic housing complex to a mountain of upturned brown brick to the big muddy field it is today. For those of us who didn’t live there, the transformation may have been startling, but we see this kind of ruthless, scorched-earth demolition and redevelopment happening all over.

But for the S’Libertarians whose friends and loved-ones moved away, who saw their community disintegrate, or worst of all–personally suffered the loss of a family home–the upscaling/gentrification/whitewashing (take your pick) of East Liberty has got to pack the same savage punch as a hurricane or tornado blowing through other parts of the world, dismembering the lives in its path.

sculpture of black plaster head with plastic toy tank attached to wood

Babyland: tanks for the memories

Without any better information to work from[2], all we can do is speculate and enjoy the Babyland totems while they’re still around–and they probably won’t be here for long. Like the former retail building they’re installed around or the old Penn Plaza apartments, something will take them sooner or later. Whether that’s a designated city clean-up crew, street art souvenir hunters[3], or just a heavy blast of rain, we can’t predict. But it’s another of life’s constant reminders that everything–even a big multistory brick and steel apartment complex–is really just here for a snap of the fingers or a blink of one of those haunting baby blue eyes.

playing cards wrapped in twine hanging from cowbell

the old Babyland, hanging by a thread

A note on the photos: These pictures were all taken on Feb. 13 (daytime) and Feb. 14 (evening), 2018. We have it on good authority that at least one more totem was part of the original installation, but it had disappeared by the time we got on the scene. Within a few days of the 14th, the two pieces from the plywood over Babyland’s Penn Ave. entrance [“bean baggie baby on board” and “tanks for the memories” (our labels), above] were also removed.

sculpture of black plaster head laying on wet sidewalk concrete

head down to Babyland! [4]


[1] “Longtime East Liberty business Babyland to close and move”Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 8, 2012.
[2] In the course of reporting this piece, we located the artist who created the Babyland totems and made several offers to discuss the work. The artist declined to be interviewed for this story and since there’s no attribution on the individual pieces, we’ve decided to preserve that anonymity.
[3] The Orbit adheres to a strict code of preservation of street art so we do not condone taking pieces such as these for personal consumption.
[4] After finding this lost noggin on the sidewalk, we did our best to reattach it to the rest of the piece using a twig to join the two. How long that lasted is unknown.

Hold the Cheese: A Pi Day Salute to Ghost Pizza

neon sign reading "IZZA" (the letter "P" is burnt out), Natrona Heights, PA

unknown, Natrona Heights

What’s not to like? Fresh-baked bread–right out of the oven–some kind of sauce, a lake of molten cheese. There are umpteen different things you can throw on top for more flavor–and each one has its defenders and cynics–but these are almost superfluous. Pizza–Hot, Fresh, & Delicious, as if the standard-issue paperboard box needed to remind us of it–is (unofficially) America’s national dish[1].

Pizzerias are a classic formula that’s never needed to be updated–order a single cut for a quick lunch or a whole pie for a group dinner. They get dressed-up in fancy toppings and elaborate food narratives one day, but it still tastes great as greasy street food the next. Pizza places are future-proof: utilitarian as gas stations and lusty as saloons. No one wants Internet pizza.

All that said, not every pizza joint is going to have the long-term endurance of Beto’s or P&M. So on this Pi Day, we celebrate some of the fallen soldiers on pizza’s long campaign to win the hearts, minds, waistlines, and cholesterol counts of America. Buon appetito!

hand-painted sign for Venice Pizza on cinderblock wall, covered in vines, Pittsburgh, PA

Venice Pizza I, Lawrenceville

cinderblock wall with mural for former Venice Pizza & Pasta, Pittsburgh, PA

Venice Pizza II, Lawrenceville[2]

Brick commercial building with green, white, and red storefront, Clairton, PA

unknown[3], Clairton

glass storefront windows painted with the name of DeSalla's Pizza and running pizza delivery man, Pittsburgh, PA

DeSalla’s, Allentown[4]

rear of commercial building with hand-painted sign reading "Astro Pizza", Pittsburgh, PA

Astro Pizza, East Liberty

freestanding brick restaurant with Italian red, green, and white awning and "For Sale" sign, Monongahela, PA

unknown[3], Monongahela

empty glass storefront with the word "Pizza" on glass, Pittsburgh, PA

Potenza Pizza & Pasta, North Oakland

glass storefront window with hand painted image of a bear eating pizza, Pittsburgh, PA

Pizza Bear, DeSalla’s, Allentown


[1] The United States has no official “national dish”. The obvious rivals for this title–hamburgers, hot dogs, apple pie, and the like–could make strong counter-arguments, but this blogger thinks you’re fooling yourself if you buy them.
[2] That’s Amore pizza now occupies this building, but the obvious paint-over of the Venice name still qualifies the original tenant as ghost pizza.
[3] We can’t be sure the storefronts in Clairton and Monongahela were pizzerias, but the tell-tale green/white/red color scheme suggests they were either that or more full-on Italian restaurants.
[4] An Orbit reader from Allentown informs us that “DeSalla’s is not closed!” That may be true, but it sure looked like it the day we were there and they’ve got a prominent For Sale sign in the window, which suggests it won’t be long either way.

Ghost House: East Liberty Farmers Market

Ghost house with giant pumpkin mural, Pittsburgh, PA

Under the pumpkin moon. The Sheridan Ave. ghost house.

If, nay, when Pittsburgh creates the Ghost House Hall-of-Fame, the imprint on the side of the East Liberty Farmers Market building will certainly be in the very first class of inductees.

It’s just got everything: the perfect lines, the front porch and rear addition details, the unpainted red brick as negative space against the larger building’s long pale yellow wall, luscious green wall-to-wall shag…grass–even an antenna (?) pointing up from the back porch.

There’s not a lot left to the imagination here. Look around town and you can still see standing houses just like this one all over the place. The two-up/two-down design is a pretty standard Pittsburgh row house shape. This one clearly had the very common early flat roof additions off the back, usually to bring the kitchen indoors and provide a bath and extra bedroom upstairs.

ghost garage, Pittsburgh, PA

Ghost garage

Was it Bob Vila or The Torch Marauder who said: have you seen the back? If the main house wasn’t enough to talk you into this beauty, let me remind you it comes with a fully-dysfunctional two-car ghost garage. It’s nothing fancy–one story tall with a flat roof–but the depth (basically equal to the entire house!) suggests you could park a couple LeSabres, LeBarons, LeMans, or LeCars in there and still have room for le beer fridge, le wood shop, le ping pong table, and some extra le storage for your Hallowe’en decorations.

I can see what you’re thinking–this a little too much of a “fixer-upper” for me–am I right? Granted, the house needs some work–like, pretty much everything–but just imagine the possibilities! That, and it couldn’t be more conveniently located for a rehab job. This ghost property is literally right across the street from Home Depot. You can be in and out in the blink of an eye…just like a ghost.

ghost house and garage, Pittsburgh, PA

Ghost house and garage

 

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…

More Time for the Skyline

Art installation of Pittsburgh skyline as large cut-outs with black and white patterns projected on them

Spirit Lounge Pittsburgh 200th Birthday Celebration

Back in January, we posed the question is the Pittsburgh skyline that distinct? No definitive conclusion was achieved but it became clear that we’re dealing with an extremely popular subject. In only the few months since, we’ve seen new examples of the same profile appear over and over–in art, in industry, in history. Here are The Orbit’s favorites:

Spirit Lounge‘s 200th birthday party for the city was an orgy of Pittsburgh in-joke goofballery. The flashing, multi-color downtown skyline diorama looked great in all of its phases, but especially this high-contrast, two-tone number (above)–amazingly with just one building’s profiles caught on the bias. Hats off to whoever put this great display together.

Airbrush painting of the Pittsburgh skyline seen from the North Side

Warhola Recycling, North Side

Warhola Recycling would have to include a North Sider’s view of the city. The big touch points are all there: PPG, Fifth Avenue Place, Point State Park and its fountain–even one of the party boats on the river. This mural, airbrushed on the big steel doors on the side the building, is a great example of the skyline potentially popping up just about anywhere.

fantasy skyline with various Pittsburgh elements included

Energy Innovation Center (former Connelly Technical Institute), Hill District, c. 1930

The depiction of Pittsburgh in this arched doorway mural from the old Connelly Technical Institute is terrific in a number of ways. First, it’s just very much of its time–a pseudo-realistic depiction of the city in full industrial might: a place of buildings reaching to the skies, bridges that can ford any span, industry cranking out…stuff, and glorious rolling green hills as far as the eye can see.

But it’s also a perspective that doesn’t actually exist–and never did. The painting is a fantasy view of Pittsburgh combining real-life entities (downtown’s Gulf Tower, the Panther Hollow Bridge in Oakland, steel mills, farmland) plucked out of their actual habitats and re-combined in a close-shouldered collision. It’s like a regional greatest hits album that lacks any cohesive flow, but still sells because it’s got all the good stuff people want to hear.

city skyline painted on concrete tennis practice wall, Pittsburgh, PA

Garland Parklet, East Liberty

This skyline, painted graffiti-style in a park in East Liberty, is almost so abstract that we can’t count it–it could be Anytown (O.K. any city), U.S.A. There’s no recognizable Gulf Tower or U.S. Steel Building, but the central point is arguably Fifth Avenue Place’s giant hypodermic needle. They’ve also got a generic bridge in there, though it doesn’t really look like any of the “three sisters” suspension bridges. In any case, this blogger thinks it counts. Plus, it ended up on the backstop of a tennis practice wall in East Liberty, which is a pretty neat place to turn up a city mural.

Pittsburgh skyline mural painted on cinderblock building

Red Star Ironworks, Millvale

Excuse the weird cropping here, but there was a glass block window and a competing mural to work around. The entire front of Red Star Ironworks’ Millvale workshop has been painted as a giant tribute to big dudes working with hot steel. The split pair of Pittsburgh skylines that bookend the mural are really just a decorative afterthought. But they’re still there, and you won’t have any trouble picking out the now-familiar key players.

mural on brick wall including the downtown Pittsburgh skyline

Mural, Art All Night 2016, Lawrenceville

We could have filled an entire post–maybe several–with depictions of downtown Pittsburgh entered into this year’s (or any year’s) Art All Night. But we went with the one that will go down with the ship: a mural painted directly on the brick wall of the 39th Street Arsenal Terminal building that ain’t long for this world. New condos await, right there at the foot of the 40th Street Bridge, but they’re not going to make it into this skyline.

A Fine Time for the Skyline

Mural painted on garage door of man on motorcycle with the Pittsburgh skyline behind him and a banner reading "Gone but not Forgotten"

Gone but not forgotten, Homewood

Is the Pittsburgh skyline that distinct? This blogger wouldn’t have thought so, but it kept turning up, rendered by hand, in a variety of locales. The image is an interesting choice, especially for some obvious small time players. It’s there on a shuttered candy shop, a no-longer-serving Chinese restaurant, and a tribute to a fallen motorcyclist. [Note to self: cancel appointment to have Pittsburgh skyline tattooed across midriff.]

The iconography seems well established. Each representation features PPG’s signature spiked towers, the giant hypodermic needle that locates Fifth Avenue Place, and the taller-than-them-all monolith of the USX (née U.S. Steel) tower. Optional other inclusions are the fountain at Point State Park, the Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne bridges, Oxford Centre’s very ’80s lopped cube, and the Kopper’s/Gulf Tower art deco two-fer.

Mural of a spirit blowing glass above the Pittsburgh skyline at Gallery G Glass, Pittsburgh, PA

Gallery G Glass, Bloomfield

The loose outline of a great glass-blowing water spirit floats weightlessly in front of a rough depiction of downtown’s tall buildings. It looks like Matisse, as rendered by a precocious fifth-grader. This lanky figure seems to spring from a Smurfs-like version of the Point State Park fountain. Earth, air, fire, and water: all the elements are there. The mural pictured here is actually just one half of a set–its nearly-identical twin faces the other direction and sits just on the other side of Gallery G’s front entryway on Liberty Ave.

Sign for Cutty's Candy Store that includes the Pittsburgh skyline and a version of the Steelers logo with the word "Cutty" added

Cutty’s Candy Store, Homewood

We loved this combination Pittsburgh portrait/ornate Steelers tribute/Candy Store business sign so much we ganked it for the Orbit masthead. The skyline has all the usual players, but here they’re rendered in a really effective semi-detailed black & white, resting on a set of rococo brass work, and reading brilliantly against the pitch black background. Maybe if Cutty had made the text as easy to read the candy store would still be in business and we could have popped in for some licorice on the ride. That was not to be.

mural of the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh painted on brick wall of former Yen's Gourmet restaurant, Pittsburgh, PA

Yen’s Gourmet (detail), East Liberty

We’re gathering the materials on the inevitable Orbit obit to Yen’s Gourmet (R.I.P.) on Penn Avenue and this one popped-out. The long brick wall that makes up the east-facing side of the building has one continuous mural of a congenial, multicultural East Liberty. Bathed in sunshine, people of all stripes walk the streets, curb their pets, shop, and frolic. There is at least one incongruous wolf (maybe it’s just a husky) with its eyes trained on you, the viewer and its tongue salivating. It is both painful and totally fitting that this portrait will never include the greatest elements of change in a rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood that would ultimately send Yen and his $6.95 all-you-can-eat buffet packing*.  Likely the new Ace Hotel does not have such a deal.

Chromos Eyewear sign of a large pair of glasses, with the Pittsburgh skyline in each lens

Chromos Eyewear, Lawrenceville

This is almost certainly the newest skyline around as Chromos only took up shop in Lawrenceville’s tenth ward fairly recently–but how great to keep up the tradition and what an effective use of the idiom! One giant pair of glasses serving as this eyewear shop’s name-free shingle, each with a silhouetted downtown Pittsburgh skyline clearly in view. Real glass allows daylight through the rest of the lenses just like, you know, real glasses. Well done, Chromos.


* Just guessing here: we have no idea why Yen’s Gourmet closed their doors.