Panic and the gi­ant peach

Rest easy, res­i­dents (and ‘House of Cards’ fans): The Pea­choid lives

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - david.zucchino@la­times.com Twit­ter: @davidzucchino with David Zucchino

Ev­ery­body’s wor­ried about the Pea­choid. Is it be­ing torn down? Is Gaffney re­plac­ing the iconic peach-shaped wa­ter tower that looms over In­ter­state 85 like a ris­ing sun?

Ac­tu­ally, the 135-foot tower has merely been get­ting a face-lift — sand­blasted and re­painted 34 years af­ter its rounded curves first spawned a thou­sand jokes about naked but­tocks. But the makeover briefly left the Pea­choid look­ing more like rot­ten fruit.

“Oh, peo­ple were re­ally up­set — it was like, ‘They’re tear­ing down the Pea­choid, my life is over,’ ” Claire Hu­min­ski said at her post in­side the Gaffney Vis­i­tors Cen­ter, where she works in a shop stocked with Pea­choid cof­fee mugs and post­cards.

The pub­lic panic on Twit­ter and Instagram was trig­gered by messy sand­blast­ing and a coat of ugly yel­low primer. Some Pea­choid lovers feared the peach was about to be­come a lemon.

“I just told peo­ple: When life hands you lemons, make a lemonoid,” Hu­min­ski said.

Peo­ple calmed down as the primer was painted over in or­ange-yel­low-pink­ish tones by Eric Hinn, an artist who has nearly fin­ished re­paint­ing the peach.

It’s part of months-long makeover to re­pair crack­ing and peel­ing caused by sun, wind, rain and ice.

The Pea­choid long ago built a na­tional rep­u­ta­tion as a star­tling road­side at­trac­tion on the long stretch of I-85 be­tween Char­lotte, N.C., and At­lanta.

But af­ter the tower starred in a 2013 episode of the hit Net­flix se­ries “House of Cards” (“Sea­son 1, Episode 3,” Hu­min­ski re­cited), it be­came an in­ter­na­tional dar­ling.

“House of Cards” fans from the Nether­lands, Aus­tralia and Ger­many have trekked to Gaffney to ogle the Pea­choid, said Leigh-Ann Snuggs, di­rec­tor of the vis­i­tors cen­ter. She fig­ures that makes Gaffney a des­ti­na­tion city (peo­ple also come for the county’s three na­tional parks and out­let mall, she said).

“It’s re­ally put us on the map all over again,” Snuggs said.

It cer­tainly didn’t hurt that ac­tor Kevin Spacey, who plays Frank Un­der­wood, a schem­ing con­gress­man from Gaffney on “House of Cards,” posed at the Pea­choid in 2013 to cel­e­brate an Emmy nom­i­na­tion. He sipped cham­pagne next to his dog, Bos­ton.

Snuggs, for one, didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate the crude ref­er­ences to the Pea­choid by char­ac­ters on the show. One com­pared it to a cer­tain fea­ture of fe­male anatomy.

And the Pea­choid was slan­dered in a barbed po­lit­i­cal at­tack ad by an Un­der­wood ri­val: “It’s vul­gar. It’s an em­bar­rass­ment to the county. But time and time again Frank Un­der­wood has fought to keep it stand­ing.”

Frank has to hus­tle home to Gaffney to dampen a po­lit­i­cal firestorm af­ter a teenage girl is killed in a car wreck while driv­ing past and tex­ting an off-color com­ment about the Pea­choid. “It’s a joke,” he said of the tower, even though its photo hangs on his con­gres­sional of­fice wall.

Peo­ple in Gaffney, pop­u­la­tion 13,000, are proud of the Pea­choid. “If you have to be known for some­thing, it might as well be a gi­ant peach,” said Pam Wylie, who works at City Hall.

Kim Fort­ner, a Board of Pub­lic Works of­fi­cial in Gaffney, wears her shirt with the Pea­choid logo while trav­el­ing. “Peo­ple al­ways say, ‘Oh, the big peach on the in­ter­state,’” she said.

Fort­ner es­ti­mated re­paint­ing costs at $350,000 to $400,000 — “and well worth it,” she said.

Be­cause the Board of Pub­lic Works is re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing the Pea­choid, Fort­ner was but­ton­holed this win­ter by re­porters ask­ing whether the tower was be­ing torn down. No.

The board has pro­vided a brochure with help­ful facts: The green leaf that tops the Pea­choid is 60 feet long; the struc­ture has a mile and a half of welds con­nect­ing its steel plates; the foun­da­tion con­tains 10 mil­lion pounds of con­crete.

The deep cleft that prompted all the butt jokes is made from steel pan­el­ing welded to the sphere. A spe­cial nip­ple was built on the bot­tom, just like on a real peach. A plaque on the Pea­choid notes that it was named Steel Tank of the Year in 1981.

It cost $969,000 to build the thing and 50 gallons of paint to paint it. It was first pro­posed in 1975 by the then-board chair­man, Jack Mill­wood. Lo­cal lore says the con­cept was hatched very late on a very slow night.

The idea was to pro­mote the lo­cal peach crop. Peach pro­duc­tion has since di­min­ished here, but the Pea­choid — and the TV show — has for­ever linked the fruit to Gaffney.

Hinn has re­painted the Pea­choid sin­gle-hand­edly, hoisted by a 150-foot boom lift. He said he uses no sprays or brushes — only a 6-inch roller. He has mixed 16 col­ors from about 55 gallons of petroleum-based paint (at $400 a gal­lon) to pro­duce just the right peachy-yel­low­ish tones.

“I fig­ured out how to roll the col­ors into each other to blend it just right,” Hinn said. The col­ors range from safety yel­low to deep purple. There’s also green for the leaf and brown for the 12-foot-long stem.

Hinn has painted tow­ers and stor­age tanks across the coun­try: a globe on a wa­ter tank in Sa­van­nah, Ga.; thor­ough­breds on a wa­ter tank in Lexington, Ky.; a sea turtle on a tank in Tampa, Fla.

The Pea­choid is among his fa­vorites. “It’s ex­cit­ing and cool — a re­ally iconic tower,” he said.

Few peo­ple worry any­more that the Pea­choid is be­ing torn down. But they still pull over to take self­ies — 30 to 40 a day, Hinn said.

The Pea­choid stands just out­side Claire Hu­min­ski’s backyard, which prob­a­bly qual­i­fies her as an ex­pert on the struc­ture, though at 21 she’s 13 years younger than the tower.

Like most peo­ple in Gaffney, Hu­min­ski cares deeply about the Pea­choid. And like most Pea­choid lovers, she has ad­vice for Hinn: “It looks to me like he needs to blend the col­ors in a lit­tle more.”

David Zucchino Los An­ge­les Times

TALK IN TOWN was that the wa­ter tower re­sem­bling a peach, a fix­ture since 1981, was be­ing torn down. In fact, it is just get­ting a paint job.

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