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[whitespace] Zippy the Pinhead Zippy Duty

Famed cartoonist takes doggie-head sign to heart

ZIPPY THE PINHEAD cartoonist Bill Griffith is doing his part in championing sign preservation. A San Francisco resident for 20 years before relocating to Connecticut, Griffith has used his nationally syndicated cartoon strip as an outlet for social and cultural commentary via two main characters, Zippy and alter ego Griffy. Part of that commentary has been dedicated to Doggie Diner, a local chain of diners in San Francisco, Oakland and other parts of the Bay Area that was founded in 1949 and closed in 1986. Around 1960, sign designer Harold Bachman created the Ocean Beach doggie head, a fiberglass dachshund wearing a white chef's hat, bow tie and wry smile. At the time, Bachman operated his own commercial poster shop in Berkeley. It closed in 1975 after 25 years of producing billboard signs and ad materials for commercial accounts. According to Diana Scott, a member of the Ocean Beach Historical Society, which has led the effort, Bachman wanted to work at Disney, but it never happened. Bachman now lives in Santa Rosa and will be 80 this year.

After spotting his first doggie at the 17th and Mission Street location--which, unlike some of the other area doggies, revolved 360 degrees--Griffith drew the dachshund into his comic strip, circa 1975. The woofer--especially the 10-footer on Sloat Boulevard and 48th--has become more prominent in Griffith's strip and even more important to local sign preservationists.

That canine icon, currently stationed at the Carousel Restaurant in Ocean Beach--which overtook the Doggie restaurant--took a nosedive early this month when high winds knocked it from its rusty pole. The city has vowed to restore it and the cantilevered pole. They will return it to its original position, where it will remain until 2005. Last year, Sloat Garden Center, which owns the land where Carousel and the head reside, wanted the doggie cleared to make room for a parking lot and adjacent nursery. Griffith again turned to his strip to outline the doggie's ordeal, churning out T-shirts of Zippy, Griffy and doggie head.

"I referred to him being saved, but I made the doggie feel threatened," Griffith says about the strip, which included conversations between doggie and Zippy. "I made him feel that people did love him, and people say, 'Was he not a wonderful dog?'"

The dachshund head recently caught a break. San Francisco Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board stepped in and declared the icon a local landmark, which meant it would be restored to its full glory. But a provision in the agreement states that the sign--a gift from Sloat to the city--cannot be landmarked as long as it remains at its current site. Despite promises by city officials that they will maintain the pup, there has been no progress. Griffith, who joined the preservation effort three years ago after and Ocean Beach Historical Society founder Joel Schechter contacted him, will continue to sing doggie's praises.

"It's one of the last cultural artifacts left in San Francisco," Griffith says. "It's still in its original position ... it's something that only the public can see, and it's a wonderful example of what I call Brand X America, the non-McDonald's America."

And while some people will disagree with Griffith when he says that the doggie should be preserved along with the Coit Tower or Victorian residences, he makes this argument.

"When it comes down to everything, it comes to goofy. That's what it's all about, preserving goofy."

Old Signs: Silicon Valley's Disappearing Legacy

Sign Language: What historic signs say about our lives, and why action is needed to save the valley's scarce reminders of its commercial past.

Plaque Removal: Metro reporter Genevieve Roja takes a neon-lit journey in search of the valley's oldest and most intriguing signs.

Hand-Painted Wonders: Long before graffiti, brick buildings were a palette for sign painters. Today, they are endangered species.

Strokes of Genius: An interview with octogenarian sign-painter Rey Giese.

Telltale Signs: Close-up looks at the Courtesy Chevrolet and Orchard Supply Hardware landmark signs.

Living Large: Giant roadside statues are often 'borrowed.'

Signs From the Underbelly: Columnist Eric Carlson offers a photographic tour of some of the most interesting signs in San Jose.

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From the April 26-May 2, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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