McKees Rocks hopeful to lure the smiling fish

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McKees Rocks still may have a chance to land the Wholey Smiling Fish.

In a last-minute bid to gather votes to “Bring the Fish Home,” McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation finished third with 188 votes in a monthlong contest to decide the new location of the iconic lighted fish sign from the side of the Wholey's cold-storage building at 15th and Smallman streets in the Strip District.

“Wholey’s may have originated in McKees Rocks, but, now, it’s an icon to all Pittsburghers. The fish sign should definitely go to the Heinz History Center where everyone can enjoy it!” read one of the more than 1,000 site suggestions.

The Heinz History Center received 301 votes and was the most popular choice, but the museum dedicated to the history and heritage of Western Pennsylvania has declined, stating the sign would be a fish out of water.

Mount Washington received 260 votes and finished second. The Pittsburgh neighborhood has neither declined nor accepted the sign.

“I just don’t know if it will actually happen,” said James Eash, director of economic development, with Mount Washington Community Development Corporation on Tuesday.

Feasibility as to zoning, location and the size of the 100-foot-long sign has to be carefully considered.

“Those are the kind of questions that need to be answered before we can say, yes, or no, or maybe,” said Mr. Eash.

The contest guidelines by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and the Wholey family called for the sign to be moved to a Pittsburgh location. But Taris Vrcek, director of the McKees Rocks CDC, said he takes the guidelines to be more of a recommendation than a direction, asking whether that means the sign has to remain in the ”urban core”?

After the contest results were announced Saturday, Mr. Peduto told Mr. Vrcek, “It would make a lot of sense to take it home.”

If another city site can not be located by March, the mayor has said the fish may go down river to McKees Rocks.

“This has been a lot of fun. If it is meant to be, it’s meant to be,” said Mr. Vrcek, who was impressed with the level of pride shown. ‘“What do they say, It’s an honor to be nominated?”

Even if the fish does not make its way back home, Mr. Vrcek said that being a part of the contest has helped the CDC decide to launch a YouTube series, "Made in McKees Rocks."

Naturally, the purveyor of seafood will be featured because of its 1912 start in McKees Rocks as the Robert Wholey Co. The firm sold live poultry, meats, sausage and coffee.

The series of videos will highlight businesses and products well-loved by Pittsburghers and beyond. Featured will be companies such as American Eagle, which got its start in McKees Rocks as Silvermans Menswear, or Jenny Lee Bake Shops, which, although now defunct, live on through the production of its popular swirl breads  baked by 5 Generation Bakers on Island Avenue.

The smiling fish is being relocated because new owners are converting the building into an apartment complex.


Sonja Reis, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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