Murals appearing at George’s Restaurant and Catering in South Waco and Ambold’s Key & Lock downtown have been altered.
Not by vandals or graffiti fiends, but by the city of Waco, which called to remind each business that appropriating the official ”Flying W” logo in their artful displays is a no-no. It is trademark infringement.
Now George’s owner Sammy Citrano and Ambold’s proprietor James Nix must find suitable replacements for the blank spaces on their walls.
The George’s mural, the handiwork of an arts class at Baylor University, is meant to honor notable Georges, most with Texas ties. The likenesses of boxer George Foreman, Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, country crooner George Strait and comedian George Lopez are included.
George Washington, the outlier in the group, also is featured.
Citrano and his cohorts spent the better part of a year securing approval from the honorees or their representatives to have their smiling mugs appear in the mural. It never occurred to anyone the city would have reservations about the business using its trademark, Citrano said.
But almost immediately upon the mural’s unveiling in May, George’s received a call from the powers that be at City Hall telling them to take the city logo down, he said.
Citrano said he eventually touched base with Mayor Kyle Deaver, City Manager Wiley Stem and a couple of city council members, stating his case, hearing theirs and trying to smooth any feathers that may have been ruffled during the process. Alas, Citrano said talks stalled and the big “W” was no more.
In recent weeks, he has been fielding calls from customers suggesting replacements. One suggested adding retired 54th State District Judge George Allen, a breakfast regular at George’s.
Citrano said that nomination would merit consideration.
“Well, I wouldn’t call it hardball,” he said of the city’s approach. “We were hoping the city, the city council and the city attorneys could see the value of spreading the logo. This could be the first step in creating something like, say, the golden plate award presented to the top 20 restaurants sharing the word about Waco. But the city contends it has a trademark to protect. I know we have 1,500 to 1,800 people a day coming here, and many have their picture taken in front of that mural. We worked with Baylor to create something that dignifies Waco, shows it to the world. I’ve been involved with this city 33 years, and I’m very proud of it. I understand the city has to control its logo. I’m just surprised we couldn’t get this worked out. I was surprised at the phone call in the first place.”
He added, “The city attorneys are sticking with what they feel is right, but I wish they would keep an open mind, figure out a way of encouraging people who want to put logos on their buildings. This is what it’s all about, in my opinion. We came up with this sign to put a smile on faces, and it’s working. We have I-35 being widened, and they’re redoing 18th Street and Speight Street. We’re getting blocked in from all directions. But people are smiling. Now we have a patch up there, and deciding what to do next.”
City spokesman Larry Holze said the city cannot let businesses use its logo in a way that appears to suggest a partnership.
“We all love George’s, and as much as we love Sammy, we can’t show favoritism,” Holze said. “That trademark emblem represents the city of Waco and is owned by the citizens of Waco through their government. To see it suggests Waco is the owner or a sponsor or in partnership.”
Companies spend fortunes protecting and promoting their image, he said.
“Take McDonald’s, for example,” Holze said. “It’s very critical to who they are. How would they react to someone jumping on their bandwagon?”
He added, “Some may say, ‘Well, what’s the harm?’ But consider this: What harm would attach if your trademark were to appear on something distasteful, the worst thing you could possibly think of. What if your label were to appear alongside that? The City of Waco considers this trademark infringement, and as a last resort, a civil suit would be filed. We hope it never comes to that. We feel complimented that people feel the logo represents a wonderful city. But, as I said, we can’t play favorites, As much as we love Sammy and hold George’s dear, what about Vitek’s or what about Uncle Dan’s?”
The city has seen an uptick in infringement cases in recent years and has had to become more diligent about protecting its trademark, Holze said. That is not to say the city has a moratorium on licensing the “Flying W.”
“We do allow our logo to appear on T-shirts on a case-by-case basis, as long as it is not related to a business or corporation,” Holze said.
Citrano said he harbors no ill will toward the city but is disappointed.
“I bet communities like Bellmead, Robinson or Woodway would love to have my logo, but I do business in Waco,” Citrano said. “I like the people who work for the city. We have great relationships. As I said, I’m surprised we couldn’t get this done.”
James Nix, owner of Ambold’s Key & Lock, 1125 Franklin Ave., a company with ties to downtown dating to 1882, said he can empathize with Citrano’s situation. Nix’s recently completed mural highlighting Waco’s past, with images of the deadly 1953 tornado, the Waco Suspension Bridge and the ALICO building, among others, also ran afoul of Waco’s trademark protection of the “Flying W.”
The business likewise received a phone call from the city.
A Houston artist visiting Waco suggested Ambold’s white exterior would well accommodate artwork, and Nix hired him, “splurging” on his attempt to highlight Waco’s past, he said.
Warned that the hand-painted “flying W” violated the city’s trademark, Nix said he called the artist back out to paint over the offending letter.
“It took him 15 or 20 minutes. He used a roller,” Nix said.
Like Citrano, he is pursuing suggestions for a possible replacement.
“I guess it’s the law,” Nix said. “What else can you do?”
Perhaps ironically, the Baylor University class that designed the mural for George’s was taught by Carol Perry, who created the “Flying W” design during her time as the city’s public information officer from 1984 to 1992.