Un-Graffiti: No Parking! (Part 1)

white brick wall with "NO PARKING" painted in red, Pittsburgh, PA

NO PARKING, Oakland

Parking, man. People get so damn worked-up about it.

When first The Orbit introduced the notion of “un-graffiti” some most-of-a-year-ago, it wasn’t clear there’d be much more to that particular story. How wrong we were! As it turned out, over and over again we were seeing not just more examples of the form, but the very particular one of business owners taking the law into their own hands with D.I.Y. graffiti-style No Parking signs. We have so many of these that our hard drive overfloweth with this particular bounty. Here we bring you just the cream of this particular crop…so far.

brick wall with message "Theatre. Quiet please. No parking." painted, Downtown Pittsburgh

THEATRE QUIET PLEASE *NO PARKING*, Downtown

In our digital-age interpretation of ALL CAPS as text-based shouting, the QUIET PLEASE portion of this particular message comes as a humorous incongruity. I believe the “theatre” location is actually still valid (either Harris or Arcade Comedy? It’s somewhere near the back/alley side of those two) though I imagine this sign predates the modern use of the space. The different color paint, elongated verticals, and general sloppiness of the NO PARKING half of the message suggest it was appended at some point after the initial job.

corrugated metal doors with hand-painted no parking message

DOORWAY DON’T BLOCK! No parking, Strip District

This blogger is sitting on a ton of pictures taken around the set of corrugated metal warehouses in the 3100 block of Penn and Liberty in The Strip. They just always look great and get such terrific weird light sneaking in over The Hill and down through the canyon between the tight buildings on either side of the Spring Way alley. What we’ll do with those, who knows? But there happens to be one qualifying no parking entry here, this with the re-phrase DOORWAY DON’T BLOCK–the no parking a mere afterthought.

no-parking-arrow

NO PARKING, Lawrenceville

Why is the NO only one brick high, but PARKING gets two? The directness (literally) of the arrow is so great…and specific. “Is it just right here? Is it OK if I park over there?” Whatever the explanation, it’s clear the owner of this property on Cabinet Way in Lawrenceville (a church school, rather than a home, if memory serves) doesn’t want to ask too much. Give the lord this one spot; do what you want anywhere else.

garage door spray painted with "Please. No parking in front of garage. Thank you."

Please. No parking in front of garage. Thank you. Lawrenceville

The most courteous no parking sign you’ll likely find. The message is written in a friendly cursive, includes an abstracted flower (?) decoration, and is bookended with both “Please” and “Thank you.” It makes this blogger almost want to abandon a car here, just to meet these nice folks.

brick walk with no parking message painted

NO PARKING ON SIDEWALK, North Side

Found on an alley in central North Side, this example is so perfect it looks like a film set. The worn red brick wall, the steel bars on the blocked-out windows, and the perfectly-painted (stenciled?) NO PARKING ON SIDEWALK that’s likely fifty or sixty years old (?) are all…just so. You could line up the Sharks and Jets or Pink Ladies and greasers in front of this backdrop and have a right proper switchblade-slinging bubblegum-popping sing-and-dance off. Cue: Vinnie Barbarino–this time we’re racing for pinks. Wop-de-wop, shoo-bop de-doobie-do.

faded painting on brick wall reading "No Parking at any time", Glassport, PA

*NO* PARKING at any time, Glassport

Another old sign so quaintly precious it’s hard to believe. This one has the bonus keystone-shaped Official [unreadable] ghost sign above it (probably a former Pennsylvania state inspection station?). The no-nonsense *NO PARKING* followed by the sweet lower-case at any time have a nice good cop/bad cop duality that seems to come from another time–don’t park here, but we still like you. Come back for an inspection and maybe an oil change…at any time.

Painting on brick wall of pizza restaurant reading "NO Parking Pizza Only ... -- or Towed at your own risk!", Homestead, PA

NO PARKING PIZZA ONLY … — OR TOWED at your own risk! Homestead

An embarrassment of riches…or at least messages. Is it “no parking” or “parking pizza only”? Why is there both an ellipsis and an m-dash? How can you be “towed at your own risk!”?Regardless of any lapses in pre-paint proof-reading (err…proof-thinking-through), it’s pretty obvious Di Sallas Pizza in Homestead would like you to pick up your pie and get the hell out–you can leave the motor running. The glowing online testimonials suggest the Di Sallas spent more time in the kitchen than either art or English class and we should come back to cover this place for The Pizza Chase–we’ll just watch where we park.

hand-painted sign on cement wall reading "Parking only Dollar Store and More"

PARKING ONLY DOLLAR STORE AND MORE, Forest Hills

Ex-Atom Smasher

Westinghouse atom smasher laying on its side at the site of former Westinghouse research facility, Forest Hills, PA

Westinghouse atom smasher, Forest Hills

This blogger knows what you’re thinking: That would look great in my apartment! Am I right? Well, bad news: The Orbit’s got dibs. [Note to self: get apartment with sixty foot ceilings.]

That is the Westinghouse atom smasher. According to the historical marker on the site (see below) it’s the “world’s first industrial Van de Graaff generator, created by Westinghouse Research Labs in 1937.”

The Orbit pretends to be many things–substantive, humorous, newsworthy–but it won’t pretend to know science (at least, not in a post that “real scientists” might actually read). The atom smasher has been well-documented with its own Wikipedia page and Roadside America entry, not to mention countless news stories and physics lessons, so we’ll leave the facts to the pros.

Remains of Westinghouse building in Forest Hills, PA

Former Westinghouse Research Labs building

But to not cover the ex-atom smasher, currently laying on its side as the only remaining piece of the former Westinghouse Research Labs in Forest Hills, would be an oversight we’re not prepared to live with. We never ate dinner at Poli’s, never caught rays at Myrtle Booth, and never got a generator re-jiggered at Goeller. We’ll not make that same mistake with the only Van de Graaff generator we’re likely to encounter in this lifetime.

Westinghouse atom smasher on pile of rubble, Forest Hills, PA

It’s a strange sight today. The same historical marker describes the ex-atom smasher as a “pear-shaped structure,” but in its present form, it looks more like a great rusting lightbulb, laying in a pile of debris on a giant’s basement floor. Or maybe a Bladerunner-era war balloon, made of some future lighter-than-air material, downed tragically in an electrical storm.

Atom smasher on its side at the former Westinghouse research facility, Forest Hills, PA

Ex-atom smasher with Paul Rand’s great Westinghouse logo still clearly visible

It’s also beautiful. Especially the day we visited, under thick cloud cover with perfect mid-autumn leaf-changing adding an incongruous warmth to an otherwise cold, gray scene. The ex-atom smasher even looks comfortably nestled on the chock-a-block pile of bricks, broken concrete, and cinderblocks that have been swept together to (presumably) keep it from rolling away. Even faded, scored, and turned on its side, Paul Rand‘s great 1960 Westinghouse logo still looks fantastic.

Historical marker for Westinghouse atom smasher: the world's first Van de Graaff generator, 1937

Historical marker at the corner of F Ave. and Service Road No. 1 in Forest Hills

But this is maybe the most perfect way to see the ex-atom smasher today. The former site of the Westinghouse lab sits among a neighborhood of detached middle-class houses in the appropriately-named Pittsburgh suburb of Forest Hills. Its medium-large poured concrete footprint is surrounded on three sides not by industry, but thick foliage. The whole scene has a feeling of nature reclaiming this land, the ex-atom smasher the lone survivor as the earth’s wolves salivate at the chain-linked perimeter. Each of them thinking that would look great in my apartment.

Westinghouse atom smasher and giant pile of bricks from former research facility, Forest Hills, PA

Forest Hills: lunar landscape


Orbit bonus! The original atom smasher influenced some musical collisions as well, including a second-tier British prog band that took their name (with a slight spelling difference) from the technology. Here’s them, a couple dozen candelabras, and a whole lot of organ live in 1972:

As Robert Mueller mentions in the comments:

…WATCH the right hand of the keyboard player (from 3:36 to 3:42) and PAUSE at 3:39 !!! ASTONISHING !! His fingers are like LIQUID plastic !! HIS FINGERS ARE SHAPESHIFTING !!!! A REPTILIAN SHAPESHIFTER !!!!! These beings come from SIRIUS !!!!