The aging, rusted and faded powder blue Hamburg water tower looms prominently on the edge of the New York State Thruway.
You can't miss it, perched along Howard Road, poking up above the tree line. In fact, neighbors say their grandsons call it "the spaceship."
That's one way to see it. Others, however, say the tower is distinctly hamburger shaped. Fitting, since Hamburg claims to be the birthplace of the first hamburger in 1885. That claim is celebrated every July, when the community bands together for its popular Burgerfest.
Twenty-four years ago, the idea was floated to paint the tower to reflect that hamburger heritage, bun and all. Some liked the idea; others did not want the town to be known just by a hamburger. In the end, town fathers nixed the idea of the tower's burger painting, even with the town's name added to it.
Now, the idea has circled back. A petition is making the rounds to have the water tower painted to resemble a towering hamburger to welcome people to "the town that friendship built."
Chris Hannotte Luly, a 15-year Hamburg resident who wore her colorful hamburger hat to last month's Burgerfest, is spearheading the drive. A HamburgerWaterTower.com website is up and going, and Luly is circulating a petition to present to the Town Board on Sept. 11. Beneath her tent cover at the Farmer's Market at the start of each month, she pitches her idea to passersby and ramps up the petition signature count. By Saturday, she said, about 1,500 have signed.
By early accounts, the resurrected push for a burger-like water tower is getting a "thumbs up."
Online signers of the petition have also commented. A sampling:
A Carrollton, Ga., man kept it simple: "I like hamburgers."
"This is a fun and creative idea to implement, and I am soon to be sure this will turn into a hallmark of Hamburg, NY.," added a Buffalo man.
A Hamburg woman wrote, "I love Hamburg and I love hamburgers! (With cheese)."
Transforming it into "a burger" is "creative and will add color, beauty, and purpose to the tower," according to another Buffalo resident.
Hannotte Luly says on the new website that she'd like to propose repainting "this piece of our town's history to look like a hamburger" and put it on the map, so to speak. Tourism dollars and jobs, along with events at the Erie County Fair & Exposition grounds – including the fair – and Burgerfest were cited as big economic drivers.
The latest push appeals to town Councilman Thomas Best Jr.
"It would be neat to have a burger-type thing. I think it would give an identity to Hamburg, where it's a destination, and people would be able to see it from the Thruway," Best said. "It would be nice to have this, except if it didn't come from the taxpayer funding. I can't see spending taxpayer money when we have roads not paved for 15 to 20 years."
Hannotte Luly said the goal is to raise money and secure grants to paint the water tower without any public dollars. The plan would be to hold fundraisers to get Hamburg residents and business owners involved. Several graphic artists are being invited to draft a rendering of their vision of the Hamburg burger tower, with proposals posted on the HamburgerWaterTower website.
Patty and Dan Schinzel have lived on Howard Road for 25 years and have a closeup view of the rundown tower from their backyard.
Dan Schinzel said the tower, believed to be owned by the town, is now used for cell tower placement. Schinzel, a retired Hamburg town highway worker, said he and his wife were opposed to the original hamburger idea for the tower in 1993, when it flopped amid safety concerns. A ladder at the time often led to kids climbing the tall tower and painting graffiti on it. That has since been stopped with better security for the tower's access ladder.
"I didn't want some rusty hamburger in my backyard," Patty Schinzel recalled Sunday afternoon. "It's like having a spaceship in your backyard."
But now, they've changed their minds – as long as adequate maintenance and security are in place. Dan Schinzel even signed the petition at the Farmer's Market.
"It's just a monstrosity. If they painted that a hamburger, I really wouldn't care," he said. "How can it look any worse that it does right now?"
Patty Schinzel does have some reservations. She said, "I have a worry about people coming to take pictures, like they looked around during the Pokemon game."