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Why Pittsburgh's Sister Bridges 'Should Stay Yellow'

PittGirl's says, quite simply, no other color will do.




PHOTO BY DAVE DICELLO
 

If we’re listing cities of the United States that have almost immediately recognizable skylines, Pittsburgh has to be near the top of the list.

Sit down, Portland. The grown-ups are talking.

Though many might not be able to pick Cincinnati out of a lineup with Atlanta and Columbus, or tell Houston from Dallas from Austin, or Portland from a LEGO set (I’m just being mean now), there’s no escaping Pittsburgh’s visual cues. That triangle of water, that hillside with the slow-moving red incline cars, that fountain, ALL OF THOSE YELLOW BRIDGES.

"Like, seriously, Pittsburgh, calm down with all of the bridges," is what Portland might say in its best “MARCIA, MARCIA, MARCIA!” voice.

Pittsburgh’s skyline is world-famous, and now the city is considering a small change to it, specifically, the color of the Sister Bridges. They’re due for a new coat of paint, and Mayor Bill Peduto has opened up a public discussion for Pittsburghers to voice their thoughts on what color, or colors, the bridges should be painted.

Currently, like most bridges near the confluence (drink!), the Sister Bridges of Pittsburgh, the only trio of identical bridges in the country, are the trademark “Aztec Gold” and Pittsburghers have some very strong opinions regarding what hue should be next.

Most want them to stay yellow.

Some suggested a rainbow of fruit flavors (™ Skittles).

Some, red, white and blue.

Some just dropped a box of crayons on the floor and grabbed three colors. (“Burnt Orange, Piggy Pink, and Mango Tango!”)

My initial gut reaction was that the bridges should stay yellow. After hours of research and looking at various mockups of how the bridges would look in other colors, my final reaction is that the bridges should stay yellow.

Now, this isn’t coming from that classic Pittsburgh place of “I hate change, and I will resist it for at least 10 years. Ask me again in a decade. [pops open an Ahrn City]

It’s coming from a place of pure Pittsburgh love.

Back in 2001, this exact question was brought up for debate. At the time, the president of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, Arthur Ziegler, strongly believed that as bridges came due for new coats of paint, they should be repainted in a variety of colors. The proposed colors had names such as Candied Yam, Purple Ice, Grassy Meadow and Perfect Peach. (I’m kinda thinking maybe Ziegler did that drop-a-box-of-crayons thing: “Oooh! MAUVELOUS.”)

The ironic thing about the 2001 debate is that the person who spoke out the loudest against the wild and wacky color stylings of Arthur Ziegler was the man running the most colorful, wild and wacky museum in the city — Tom Sokolowski, then director of The Andy Warhol Museum. You’d think a man dedicated to preserving the legacy of Andy Warhol would want the bridges painted in colors so vibrant they’d have seizure warning signs at each entrance. Instead, Sokolowski said to the media, on the record, in real life …  “We don’t want our bridges to look like whores.”

While the idea of painting bridges Crayola colors might sound appealing and fun at first, you have to look at the big picture. You have to get down from that purple, silver or green bridge. You have to get up in the air. You have to stand on Mount Washington in the gloaming. You have to stand in the West End as the sun rises behind the skyline. You have to realize that no color, no blue, purple, green or silver will stand out, will reach out, will grab you one by one by one with its strong and true hue beaming out against the roads, the traffic, the sky and whatever color the river is today … than yellow.

The yellow that evokes the Golden Triangle.

The yellow that our sports teams proudly wear.

The yellow that dots our city seal.

The yellow that is featured in countless prints, murals, art and gifts that showcase Pittsburgh’s bridges.

The yellow bridges of Pittsburgh are as iconic as the red incline cars of Pittsburgh, and there honestly is no way you can argue that fact. We’ve forged our brand, our visual identity around those yellow bridges, those red cars, that changing them feels like making a change simply because the opportunity presented itself to do so. And changing things just to change them is not a good reason to tinker with Pittsburgh’s brand. Paint them puce, periwinkle and Purple Pizzazz and they stop being our brand and start being Skittles.

Visitors should know that our bridges are valuable to us. They’re iconic. Our identity is wrapped up in them; after all, we’ve got more bridges than any other city in the world. (Sit down, Venice.) They will see them one after another as they drink in the whole of the landscape. Yellow bridge after yellow bridge, with their eyes not needing to adjust for wildly varying colors, and they will feel that.

“Look at all these bridges in their yellow glory,” is what they’ll say.

Not, “Did a box of crayons puke here recently?”

Keep them yellow.

 

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