Beloved ‘Black Whale’ sign remains in place for now

Beloved ‘Black Whale’ sign remains in place for now
Community News Group / Patrick Rocchio

A vintage store sign that has attracted artistic interpretation for decades is reportedly ‘non-complying’ according to a city agency.

After an anonymous 311 complaint, the founder of the Black Whale, a popular City Island restaurant, was ordered to remove its custom-made wooden sign that has hung from the building for 47 years.

The sign was deemed a violation because the NYC Department of Buildings, decided that it, like many other signs in the borough, did not comply with current city regulations, said the founder of the Black Whale and building owner at 279 City Island Avenue, Richard DePierro.

The sign was reinstalled a short time after its removal on Saturday, September 18 at the insistence of Councilman Mark Gjonaj, who heard about the situation. He promised to cover any DOB fines the storeowner received going forward.

Gjonaj said he would work with NYC Small Business Services, DOB and the mayor’s office to update the regulations concerning signage that he feels are outdated.

Gjonaj called for a halt to some sign enforcement while the rules governing signage are reviewed.

The councilman said that the reason there is minimal effort by shopkeepers to comply with the existing rules governing signs is because the rules are unclear and confusing.

“They are antiquated, outdated regulations that need to be brought up to date and we should have a moratorium on enforcement until we come up with a sign law fit for the times,” said Gjonaj.

The councilman said that the city needs to bring transparency to the rules so that business owners can comply, adding that DePierro was extremely grateful that the sign remains in place for now.

DePierro said that the sign cost $1,000 for custom gold lettering and another $1,000 to have a cabinet maker custom make the distinctive wooden background with its iconic whales at either end nearly 50 years ago.

“It just knocked the hell out of me,” DePierro said about the turmoil, adding “It is the most beautiful sign on City Island.”

The property owner, who is also redeveloping a commercial property across the street with hopes of reviving the center of the island, said he believes the sign is distinctive in comparison to many of the run-of-the-mill signs around the island.

According to the DOB, the agency is legally required to respond to every 311 complaint, and that the agency inspected the business on Tuesday, June 26.

The violation indicated that the 14-foot by 16-inch sign was installed at the front of the building without a DOB permit, which is required for all signs that are larger than six square feet.

According to the DOB, in order to resolve the violation, the building owner is required either to remove the sign or obtain a permit.

“As of today, the violation remains open, and the building owner has not certified with the department that the violating conditions have been remedied,” read a DOB statement.

Barbara Dolensek, City Island Civic Association vice president, said that community members have rallied behind keeping the sign.

DePierro said he would like to keep the sign in place if possible.

The restaurant’s operator is vacationing in Greece and was not available for comment.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.