Park Hill neighbors mourn end of era of handmade street sweeping signs

Two days of the month, eight months of the year, for almost twenty years, Rich Giannotti hauled out his handmade signs -- "NO PARKING TODAY STREET SWEEPING" -- and posted them on one side or the other of the 1700 block of Grape Street, a block that had successfully defied the City of Denver's efforts to impose permanent (and, in some eyes, aesthetically challenged) street sweeping signs. Until last week -- when the city, in its wisdom, stomped on local custom and sacred tradition.

"I must admit that today's event has taken me quite by surprise," Giannotti wrote in an email to his neighbors, shortly after city crews installed signs on both sides of Grape. "After more than 10 years of Public Service on the block, I [learned] that my service would no longer be needed. I am sure that no one from our prestigious block fired me, so I have to believe that it was someone from either Hudson or Glencoe!"

The Park Hill neighborhood is known for celebrating its specialness and diversity, and residents of the 1700 block of Grape have taken particular pride in its quirks. The block has been home to teachers and entrepreneurs, doctors and executives, lawyer couples and realtor couples -- even one of the original founders of Westword. And they all found plenty to like in what the block had to offer.

"It's a great block," says Giannotti, a New York transplant who's lived on Grape since 1981. "No streetlight in the middle of the block, no street sweeping signs, and it's not a through street on the parkway side. Those are some of the things that always set it apart."

The informal sign ban dates back to a showdown in the early 1990s. City workers put the signs up, and one well-connected neighbor took them down and put them in his garage. City trucks returned and put up more signs. The neighbor took them down again, then visited councilwoman Allegra "Happy" Haynes to explain that the block wouldn't stand for the signs. It's not clear that the man ever consulted the neighbors, Giannotti says, but he got his way. And Giannotti volunteered to notify the residents on street sweeping days, recycling old campaign signs for the purpose. (These days, of course, you can also get an email reminder for the days you need to move your car.)

So why did the city abruptly decide to put its own signs on the block? "My best guess is someone got a ticket and protested it," says Giannotti.

But Denver Public Works spokeswoman Ann Williams says that there have been no citations issued for street sweeping violations in the block in the past year and that the move was an effort to achieve consistency in signage.

"We've been putting up new signs and replacing old ones as part of our street sign program over the past several years," Williams says. "It's unusual that you'd find a pocket of two blocks, the 1700 and 1800 blocks of Grape Street, that didn't have signs. It's very considerate of concerned residents on the blocks to do their own signs, but the fact is those signs can't be legally enforced. Without the signs in place, citations can't be issued, and our sweeping program can't effectively do the job it needs to do."

In his email to the neighbors, Giannotti noted that he is "currently looking for legal respresentation to see if I am eligible for severance pay" now that his volunteer job has been terminated. "If a petition is to be circulated to remove the street signs and have my position reinstated, I will be happy to be the first to sign it. The next thing those who put the signs up will want to do will be to put a streetlight up!!!!!"

More Park Hill: Also read "Park Hill pumpkin seeds for the neighborhood that's out of its gourd: Kenny Be's Hip Tip"

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast