A mural debate: Planned sign draws ire

Bob Goss, owner of Wise Guys Pizza, says the failure of two predecessor businesses in quick succession in the space he occupies on 11th Street is a sign there’s a problem with the location.

His shop faces north, at the tip of the peninsula formed by the confluence of 12th and 13th avenues, which feed traffic onto northbound-only Chestnut Avenue, so motorists can see the shop facade only in their rearview mirrors.

Goss is creating a sign to help with the problem, but the city isn’t buying it — at least not yet.

It’s a wiseguy-themed mural on the east side of the building, visible to motorists on 12th Avenue as they curve toward Chestnut.

On Monday, the city’s Community Development Department ordered Goss to stop work and remove what he’d painted, Goss said.

He plans for the artist he hired to finish — although if he ultimately needs to remove the paint, it can be done by powerwash, Goss said.

The problem is that Goss didn’t “pull a permit” for the work, said Lee Slusser, department director, who learned of what was happening Friday, after residents complained.

The city’s solicitor is looking into the matter, Slusser said.

The city first must determine how to categorize the mural, to learn what zoning rules apply, Slusser said.

If it’s a commercial wall sign, for example, there are restrictions on size, based on the size of the wall and what percentage the mural occupies, he said.

The dispute shows why it’s unwise to begin such projects without checking, Slusser indicated.

The “whole point” of permit requirements is so the city can “weed out all the issues before someone puts money down,” Slusser said.

Goss said he has spent about $1,500 to hire the artist and rent a work platform.

The mural resembles the fictional character Tony Montana, played by Al Pacino, as depicted in a famous frame from the 1983 movie “Scarface” with Montana sitting in front of a table behind piles of cocaine — except in the mural, there will be pizza, pizza cones and bread bowls, Goss said.

“I’m just trying to drum up advertising,” Goss said. “I didn’t think it was such a big deal.”

It’s a “takeoff” on the picture, like “a play on words,” in keeping with the gangster motif of his restaurant, which serves John Gotti spaghetti and Sammy the Bull pulled pork, Goss said.

There’s no intention to promote drugs, he said.

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit and 12Eleven Brisket didn’t last long at the spot his shop occupies, and when he was considering that location, he was warned it was a “rearview mirror” operation, Goss said.

He initially tried to reach motorists through those mirrors with flashing lights, but the city ordered their removal, he said.

The mural attacks the problem from a different angle.

It’s already been successful, having drawn about a dozen customers in on Monday, including a 97-year-old resident of the nursing home across the street, Goss said.

There are other murals downtown, including one on the Saleme Insurance Services building overlooking Heritage Plaza and one on the side of the former Shirley’s Shoes, Goss noted.

Goss is appealing for assistance on the shop’s Facebook page:

“I need all of my fellow Altoona residents to help stand behind me,” wrote Goss, who said he’s hired a lawyer to represent him. “I’m not going down without a fight.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.