Un-Graffiti: No Parking! (Part 1)

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


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


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, 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


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"


Osteo-Mysterioso: Carnegie’s Giant Mystery Bone

close-up of one end of the mystery bone spanning four shipping pallets, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA

Mystery bone, as close as we could get

Two immediate questions strike the nebby passer-by: What is it? and Why is it out here?

Around the back of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Oakland, between the entrance to the lecture hall and the pedestrian bridge-ramp to the parking deck behind the art museum, is a small, gated outdoor space that is clearly not meant for public inspection. The volume of people traffic on this walkway is light to begin with, and likely very few of them stop and check out the lifeless little negative space within. But that’s a shame, as it contains one very large, bone-shaped mystery object.

external gated area of the Carnegie Natural History Museum with mystery bone on shipping pallets, Pittsburgh, PA

In context: the Carnegie Museum’s mystery bone outdoors, around back.

What is it?

It is enormous–at least twenty feet long and a foot-and-a-half thick. It has the gentle curve of a rib, or a boat’s hull. I can only imagine how much it must weigh–certainly hundreds, possibly thousands of pounds. The big bone rests on four separate wooden shipping pallets (with space in-between) and vertical bookend-shaped supports.

The bone’s far end splays out as if it once joined to some greater structure, or guided supporting tissue. The near end tapers to a gentle point, again resembling an enormous mammalian chest bone. But if this is indeed a rib, the creature it came from would be the size of King Kong.

image of King Kong terrorizing actress Fay Wray in the 1933 movie still

One possible source of the Carnegie mystery bone

So, we set out to answer this mystery. Using only the most rigorous of modern identification techniques, we put together our years of hard journalistic acumen, consultation with the most brilliant minds in marine mammal science*, and, yes, “our gut.” Through this, we’re pretty sure we came up with a winner. The mystery bone appears to be one of a pair of lower jaw bones from a whale–likely a blue whale, the largest animal ever known to have lived on Earth. [Take that, Dippy!]

blue whale skeleton

That looks like a match to me! Blue whale skeleton [photo: Canadian Museum of Nature]

Why is it here?

Now, this blogger doesn’t have a lot of room to talk. His small back yard is a de facto dumping ground for household detritus he should be dealing with instead of reporting on stories of somebody else’s mystery bones. That said, Pittsburgh Orbit is not a 120-year-old giant regional cultural institution with a large number of paid staff (at least, not yet). Hell, we’d be ordering our interns to stow the mystery bone in the hall closet or sell it cheap on Craig’s List. Put that on your resume! [Note to self: get some Orbit interns and have them clean up the back yard.]

side view of mystery bone spanning four shipping pallets, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA

Mystery bone, side view [note second mystery bone peeking out from around the corner]

The most plausible answer is simply that there just isn’t any place to put the giant bone. It’s too damn big and heavy to move, and as a weird standalone–without the rest of its blue whale parts–it may not make a lot of sense to exhibit.

But this leads to a follow-up question: if The Carnegie values this asset enough to keep it around, why not protect it a little bit more? It seems like an easy enough task to at least send one of those interns out to wrap it in plastic [Laura Palmer got better treatment!] or throw a tarp over the whole thing–and maybe get some Fantastik® and clean that green algae off while you’re at it. I realize bones are pretty tough, but put one through enough Pittsburgh snow, ice, and rain**–not to mention radical temperature and humidity shifts–and it’s hard to imagine it preserving that well–it’s already splitting! Ah, hell–that’s why we’re bloggers and not mystery bone scientists.

top view of mystery bone spanning four shipping pallets, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA

Mystery bone, top view

* Google.com
** Not that it looks like we’ll get any this year

Post No Bills

brick wall painted with "Post No Bills" message plus print-outs of famous Bills taped to the wall, Pittsburgh, PA

It’s a cheap visual joke. The self-consciously retro POST NO BILLS painted in big white block letters on the black brick wall of the former Joe Mama’s Italian restaurant in Oakland. Right next to it, jokesters have taped–nay, “posted”–a slew of pictures of famous people named Bill. There’s Bill Murray and Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Bill Maher, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and the wall’s most arcane inclusion, Buffalo Bill Cody. Bill Cosby makes a de rigueur appearance begging the question: is it bad taste or mockery to include a disgraced Bill in one’s (relatively benign) act of prankdom?

It’s a sad state of affairs when one gets a nice chuckle out of some college kids’ first nights back jape and then we jump immediately to skepticism. This is probably a thing–maybe it counts as a “meme,” I think to myself, something somebody thought of and now folks do as a cliche, like adding love locks to the nearest bridge, or “this gum tastes like rubber,” or flossing.

So off to the Internet I went, and sure enough, Google Images was stocked with variants on this joke. Color copies clipped to a chain link fence; Xeroxes stapled to plywood; Clinton, Gates, and Murray as Run-DMC; and nice, spray-painted stencils on plywood of the same group (plus Cosby) at various urban construction sites. A template clearly exists and the canon established.

So, what would it take to make this bit more interesting? If this prank-loving blogger was going to have at it (and he’s not) he would at minimum throw out all the obvious candidates. Pittsburgh young people: make it your own! Here then, for anyone considering a future rendition, are a handful of Orbit suggestions for great Pittsburgh “Bill”s that you could use, without getting into the Post No Bills rut. Make us proud.

William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham

William “Bill” Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham

William Pitt: A guy who liked Pittsburgh so much he named himself after the city. Hold it. No, it was the other way around. And maybe the city didn’t get any choice in the matter. Whatever. “Ol’ Bill” is the namesake of both Pittsburgh and Chatham College/Chatham Village and a host of other places all over the country. Tell me the image of William Pitt’s ridiculous powdered white wig wouldn’t look great wheat-pasted to the side of Joe Mama’s.

Two photos of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto: one in a suit, one in disguise for the television show "Undercover Boss"

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto in both mayoral and “Undercover Boss” guises

Mayor Bill Peduto: This one is pretty obvious. Even if you’re a student here in your first semester, you should be aware of your mayor. You’ll likely even have the opportunity to vote in the next mayoral election, so you should pay attention. Though Mayor Peduto probably would not condone vandalism (even if it’s only committed with photocopies and packing tape), I’ll bet even he would get a little kick out of being in the Order of the Bills.

Bill Mazeroski's 1960 World Series-winning home run over the New York Yankees

Bill Mazeroski, 1960 World Series

Bill Mazeroski: “Maz” gets credit for one of the most dramatic moments in Pittsburgh sports history: a walk-off home run to win the 1960 World Series over the New York Yankees. You might not be able to pick his face out of a Post No Bills line-up, but this iconic photo of the ecstatic game-winning stride around the bases will resonate with even the casual Pirates fan–there’s even a bronze statue of it at PNC Park. Oh yeah: and this all happened at Forbes Field, which is now Schenley Plaza/Pitt campus.

Pittsburgh television/radio personality "Chilly" Bill Cardille, from his time hosting "Chiller Theatre"

Chilly Billy Cardille in the “Chiller Theatre” days

Bill Cardille: This blogger didn’t move to Pittsburgh until the 1990s, so I missed out on Chiller Theatre, Pittsburgh’s entry in the bygone era of local hosts introducing late-night B-movie features on broadcast television. But I still know of it, so you should too. Cardille is equally famous both for his role as a TV news reporter in Night of the Living Dead and as a longtime radio host on (former) “music of your life” station WJAS (R.I.P.). I don’t know how many dozens of times I heard him spin “Theme From a Summer Place” or “Close to You” while I patched plaster and sanded floors. Those tunes, just like Cardille’s bedroom baritone, never got old. The patching and sanding, on the other hand…

A poem titled "Lynn Cullen" from the newspaper classified ads by Billie Nardozzi

One of Billie Nardozzi’s weekly classified ad poems

Billie Nardozzi: As Pittsburgh’s (unofficial) poet-laureate, Nardozzi published his verse weekly in the Post-Gazette classified ads for at least a decade. Every Tuesday, you’d get the same photo of himself with some rhyming, quoted “words” of “wisdom” on subjects like kindness, true love, loneliness, home cooking, etc. You make yourself a spray paint stencil of that mug with that mullet and the people of Pittsburgh will “lose” their “minds.” Guaranteed.

Honorable Mentions. Other great Pittsburgh Bills:

  • Billy Conn: Professional boxer, mostly known for the oxymoronic title of World’s Light-Heavyweight Champion (1939-1941) and for taking on (and, yes, losing to) Joe Louis, who was a weight class above him. There’s a Billy Conn Boulevard in Oakland (actually just a ceremonial section of Craig Street) and a line of photos up at Hambone’s, some of them with googly eyes stuck on the glass. Make it happen.
  • Billy Strayhorn: Jazz composer, arranger, lyricist and Duke Ellington’s right-hand man. Just try taking an ‘A’ train or living a lush life in some small dive without him.
  • Bill Bored: Drummer for the late great new wave weirdos The Cardboards and star of Stephanie Beros’ Debt Begins at 20. That movie contains a ton of great shots in Oakland and Bloomfield of places that don’t exist anymore. I’m dying for an Orbit interview with Mr. Bored!
  • Bill Cowher: He of the most-noteworthy mustache, beard, and flying saliva–oh, and he coached a football team, too. Another person with features so strong they scream out to be abstracted into two-tone.
  • Billy Buck Hill: Obscure sub-neighborhood of the South Side Slopes. Yes, this counts as a “Bill.”

brick wall painted with "Post No Bills" message and retro Coca-Cola advertisement, plus print-outs of famous Bills taped to the wall, Pittsburgh, PA

Step Beat: Romeo & Frazier

Street signs for Romeo and Frazier Street intersection, Pittsburgh, Pa.

In our automobile-oriented culture, we tend to think of streets as a means for car travel. In cities and towns, hopefully you’ll also get a sidewalk; in the suburbs or out in the country, not so much. If you’re lucky, the road might be striped for bicycles.

Pittsburgh has its own definition. A street is simply a public thoroughfare that may be any and all of these things, but it could also just be a pedestrian walkway, usually on a hillside. These are city steps, and we have a ton of them.

The intersection of Romeo and Frazier Streets, South Oakland, Pittsburgh, Pa.

The intersection of Romeo and Frazier Streets, South Oakland

Nowhere is that notion of walkways as public streets more perfect than the intersection of Romeo and Frazier Streets in South Oakland.  There, on a steep hillside, in a fen of trees, climbing vines, wildflowers, and thick weeds meet two terrific sets of well-maintained concrete city steps. Like any other crossroads worth its rock salt, this one comes complete with street signs and a streetlight.

The steps go way back. Back to a time before the automobile, the bus, or the trolley. They’re sometimes considered Pittsburgh’s first public transportation system as they were used extensively by workers to commute from residential neighborhoods up the hills to the factories and business districts below.

Frazier Street city steps, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Looking up Frazier Street from Bates

The steps don’t get anywhere near the traffic they once did. For one thing, most of those industrial areas and many of the business districts just don’t exist anymore (witness the steps leading from Troy Hill down to Route 28 or from Fineview down to 279–there’s nothing to walk down to). And then, of course, there are just a whole lot more ways to get around, and most people prefer them over the shoe leather express.

All that said, the city steps are an amazing resource. This blogger routinely drags his out-of-town visitors up to Fineview or the South Side Slopes or maybe the West End to get a full dose of up-and-down, nature-in-the-city, and a reliably terrific views from whichever ones we opt for. Some first-timers are agasp; others are just gasping for breath. Either way, you do enough of them and they’ll get you in shape right quick. Hopefully The Orbit will get back to all these spots at some point.

Romeo Street house accessible only by city steps

Romeo Street house accessible only by city steps

One great egg hunt of city step hikes is finding houses (or just the foundations) that are/were only accessible by the steps. On Romeo, there’s just one of these, right at the top of the steps. The house is a good 50 yards or so from the nearest paved road (also Romeo Street).

It must be a pain to move into a place like this or haul your groceries in the snow, but it sure is pretty and peaceful out there. From the Tibetan prayer flags and half-inflated balloon decoration to the snare drum and Oriental carpet on the porch, I’ll admit I was making some unsubstantiated judgements about these renters skipping a little rope. But hey, man, it’s all good. They’s just on the step beat.

Frazier Street city steps, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Looking down Frazier Street

Why is purple the color of Lent?

cross with Lenten purple cloth

Why is purple the color of Lent? St. Paul’s Cathedral, Oakland

St. Paul’s Cathedral in Oakland, its giant cross with purple fluttering cloth and large entry door wreaths pops with brilliant purple, especially on the earliest bleak days of the season, when the trees are still bare and the sky is inevitably gray and drizzling.

It looks terrific, but this heathen-turned-blogger decided to seek out a different type of higher power to answer a question that likely all you Catholics already have figured-out: why is purple the color of Lent?  I did the Googling, so you don’t have to.  Here’s what I found out:

Tyrian purple was associated with royalty.  It is also appropriately known as “royal purple.”  The color was largely a status symbol as purple dye was the most painstaking and expensive to produce and therefore purple-dyed fabric was prohibitively expensive for anyone else. From a 2013 New York Times Science article:

To make Tyrian purple, marine snails were collected by the thousands. They were then boiled for days in giant lead vats, producing a terrible odor. The snails, though, aren’t purple to begin with. The craftsmen were harvesting chemical precursors from the snails that, through heat and light, were transformed into the valuable dye. The compounds that turn purple in this process serve a defensive role in the snail — they protect the egg masses from bacterial infection.

Fair enough, but how does this get us to the Bible?  Don’t worry, they’re related.  The explanation is that the regal color is a mockery of the “King of the Jews,” deployed by Pontius Pilate and his soldiers at a crucial spot in that greatest story ever told.  From Mark 15:17-20:

And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

Ouch!  In third grade Mrs. Yuchmow taught us to never start a sentence with “And.”  Small style quibbles aside, I guess we have an explanation.  In perhaps the original example of a group turning an epithet on its head to take back ownership, the Catholic church now recognizes Tyrian purple as the symbolic color of the season.  And they look great doing it.

St. Paul's Cathedral front doors with Lenten purple wreaths

St. Paul’s Cathedral with Lenten purple wreaths

Italian Colors

Two rowhouses in the Bloomfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh: one green, one red

Green house, red house, white snow, Bloomfield

Even the most casual student of the classics will recognize the names of great Italian painters. Botticelli, Caravaggio, Verrocchio–the list goes on and on.  Their descendants made their way in droves to Pittsburgh, settling largely in Larimer, Bloomfield, South Oakland, and other parts of the city.  And they continued to paint.

The medium of choice is still oils (albeit exterior enamel) and they’ve simplified their color palette to the trinity of green, white, and red.  Boldly eschewing the staid canvas and gallery presentation, these artists work large and for the world to see: on cement walls and park benches, street lights and entire houses.

Garage wall in Italian red, green, and white

Garage (detail), Uptown

It’s curious to me that while Pittsburgh’s great expansion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was famously from eastern and southern European immigrants, it seems that only the Italians felt the need to reproduce the flag over and over again.  Why don’t we see crude renderings of the white eagle on garages in Polish Hill and Lawrenceville?  Why no black, red, and gold telephone poles in Deutschtown?  We’ve got (people who identify as) Croats and Slovaks out the yin yang.  Who’s representing?

Street light pole in Italian colors

Street light pole, Bloomfield

Flower pot with red and white flowers and statue of Jesus

Jesus Planter, Bloomfield

While only a fraction of the population of those other neighborhoods, the tiny neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood of Panther Hollow has possibly more Italian colored things per capita than anywhere else.  There’s a bi-lingual war memorial with the flags of The United States, Italy, and Pittsburgh, an Italian-colored park bench and picnic table, the flag rendered graffiti-style on a retaining wall, and one abbreviated stretch of picket fence.

Park bench and picnic table in Italian colors

Park bench, picnic table, Panther Hollow

It was there, at the very end of Panther Hollow, that we had the great fortune to run into lifetime resident, local historian, and maintainer of the terrific pantherhollow.us website, Carlino Giampolo. “Everyone should have a fence to hide their garbage,” Carlino told us as explanation for the curious freestanding set of tri-colored fence at the edge of his property, the last plot in the Hollow as the dead-end Boundary Street trickles into Schenley Park bicycle trail.

Retaining wall with Italian flag

Retaining wall, Panther Hollow

Carlino went on to tell us about growing up in Panther Hollow, when what is now Pitt’s lower parking lot was a ball field, community park, and cow pasture.  When there were as many as six different operating businesses in the Hollow (today there are none, nor any obvious former retail spaces).  He showed us where the hotel once stood in what is now his side yard, the community oven that would cook the neighborhood’s bread, and how self-sufficient the whole place once was (and not that long ago)–butchering their own animals, making cheese and butter from the small herd of cows they kept, etc.

Picket fence in Italian colors

“Everyone should have a fence to hide their garbage”, Carlino’s fence, Panther Hollow

The Chewing Gum Graffiti of Bigelow Blvd.

Chewing gum graffiti reading "Matson"


The intrepid cityscape blogger walks everywhere, even if he or she is just getting started in this game.  There’s just no other way to have one’s ear to the ground without keeping his or her feet on the ground (or something like that).

The walk from Lawrenceville to Oakland usually passes through Bloomfield, by way of the Millvale Street Bridge, but on the alternate route up and over the Bloomfield Bridge one gets to pass through the long stretch of Bigelow Blvd. at the northwest corner of Oakland: Zarra’s Italian restaurant, some new hotel, and The Royal York apartments (former home of Lord and Lady Lagrosa).

Out in front of The Royal York stands an old stone wall, hip high, with a curious assortment of graffiti, executed in chewing gum.  I’ve been following these expressions for the last several years.

There are a couple really interesting things about this particular strain of graffiti.  For one, it’s a really slow burn: it plays out over weeks, one stretch of gum at a time, rather than the more immediate gratification of spray paint “bombers” who get in and get out (seemingly) without time.  Second, what is this (gender neutral) guy going after?  Matson?  Who the hell is Matson?

Chewing gum graffiti reading "Canandaigua"


Canandaigua?  I can Google with the best of them, and that particular search term turns up a small town in the Finger Lakes region of New York state, not far from Rochester.  The assailant’s home turf?  It seems like a possibility.  I like my home town just fine, but you’ll struggle to find me spelling out “Blacksburg” along any public surfaces, let along in chewing gum.

Chewing gum graffiti reading "Go Bills"

“Go Bills”

Chewing gum graffiti reading "Go 'Cuse"

This would ultimately read “Go ‘Cuse”

Go Bills and Go ‘Cuse.  Finally something to work with.  Here, we’ve either got somebody who is crazy about the legislative process or a big fan of western New York state college/professional athletics.  Now, I can’t cotton to any version of the Buffalo Bills since their horrendous move to the red fielded, aerodynamic buffalo, but I empathize with their haven’t-been-good-since-the-Reagan years, astroturf-enduring fan base.  Hell, maybe they could go north and win a Grey Cup, like Baltimore.  If your team strategy is exporting missionaries to Steelers country with cases of Doublemint, hats off to you.

Buffalo Bills old logo

Vastly superior old Buffalo Bills “bison” image