History center says 'no, thanks' to Wholey smiling fish sign
The Senator John Heinz History Center has tossed a big fish back in the water.
The history center won a popularity vote to become the repository of the iconic Wholey's smiling fish sign in the Strip District, officials announced on Saturday.
But the center isn't interested.
“It would be confusing to have a sign of a thriving business that's located a few blocks away,” said center CEO and President Andy Masich.
No worries, said Mayor Bill Peduto and company officials. They said they would talk to representatives of other locations picked in the poll. While the history center was the top vote-getter with 301 out of more than 1,000 votes cast, Mt. Washington came in second with 260; McKees Rocks, 188; on or near water or a bridge, 131; and the Bigelow Boulevardretaining wall, 40 votes. Another 59 people voted to keep the sign where it is.
Mt. Washington didn't seem eager to reel in the sign, either.
“I think we're always looking to make Mt. Washington as attractive to as many people as possible,” said Rick Belloli, interim executive director of the Mt. Washington Community Development Corp. “I'm not certain that's one at the top of the list.”
However, McKees Rocks was biting. Taris Vrcek, executive director of the McKees Rocks Community Development Corp., said on Saturday that his town wants the sign because Wholey founded the business there 100 years ago.
The 100-by-60-foot smiling fish sign is made of light bulbs and hangs on the former Federal Cold Storage Building, 1501 Penn Ave. The store is at1711 Penn Ave.
Sampson Morris Group, a Monroeville real estate firm that bought the former warehouse in 2007, plans to renovate it into apartments. The developer plans to remove the sign.
Peduto said the Robert Wholey & Co. has offered to pay to move it and to pay for the electricity wherever the sign ends up, although there still is a possibility the sign could remain on the building, though not in the same spot.
“We're successful because of all of the people,” company president Jim Wholey said. “We owe it to Pittsburgh.”
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.