Big Monkey Business: The Blowup Over Inflatable Signs

Inflatable Animal on Top of Store in North Houston

First, they came for the giant apes!

Houston’s City Council may vote today to ban the use of inflatable cartoon characters to draw traffic to local businesses. A law that’s already on the books requires permits for these “attention-getting devices,” and restricts their use. But there’s no money to fund enforcement.

The new law would prohibit more than just large blowup animals:

If approved, the ban also would prohibit flashy and motion-driven devices, such as dancing wind puppets, spinning pinwheels, pennants, streamers and strobe and spotlights. . . .

[Balloon vendor Jim] Purtee said his clients report sales increase 30 to 100 percent in the weeks after installing a giant balloon. “You can’t ban balloons without banning car wraps, those planes flying over Houston with trailing banners or people standing on the corner in a clown costume,” Purtee added. . . .

Officials said holiday displays and residential lawn decorations would be exempted from the ban. The prohibition would apply only to attention-getting devices used for commercial purposes.

That troubles Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck. She asked how the city would distinguish between attention-getting devices and the holiday lights, bows and sparkly stars installed in Rice Village and the Galleria area.


But how slippery is this slope? Today: bulldogs, alligators, and elephants. Tomorrow: turkeys, puppies, masked wrestlers and pumpkins. Will they come after your inflatable shotgun next?

In the Village, they’re gonna have to pry those bows and sparkly stars from some cold, dead hands.

The Houston Press‘s Richard Connelly has a more modest proposal: Advertising animals wouldn’t be such a distraction if they were used more often.

Photo: Flickr user Robert MacCready

19 Comment

  • That’s the stupid thing about this. Those ribbons in the village won’t fall under this law.

    The basis of this ordinance is to remove side road distractions, but only the ones that some people deem is not pretty.

    To me, throw a big ribbon on the Gorilla and call it a Christmas decoration and can’t get fine.

    In the end, this just show what a waste of time our City Council contribute to our city. We have so many more critical issues such as capital improvement programs to deal with flood, traffic, pedestrian enhancements all around the city, but they are going to even acknowledge this agenda item?

    Luckily a couple of the city council members spoke up on the stupidity.

  • Actually, I think they are ugly, and a Christmas or Halloween decoration is pretty easy to differentiate from a random inflatable animal. It only applies for 1/3 of the year I believe. Clowns standing by the road are not there holding up sign everyday. But what about beggers now?

  • This sounds to me like a solution in search of a problem.

  • Pumapayam,

    It’s thinking like yours that little ordinances are good thing that creates problems in cities.

    What if the person enforcing this ordinance can’t tell the difference between decorations during that third of the year and the rest of the year? The whole enforcement aspect has no clear definition.

    If this ordinance passes, I hope businesses keep their inflatables up in protest! If someone came by, I would tell them it’s not part of an advertisement. They would have a hard time proving it was. I could say I was selling it, my child likes it. I could also say it’s part of my religion. What could they do about it then?

    The issue is city council shouldn’t waste time meaningless ordinances like this. If people truly didn’t like these things, then why do business put them. It must not be driving away customers…

  • The can have my air dancer when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers!

    Does anyone take seriously the concern that drivers will be distracted by these things? If that’s the case, why not ban Christmas lights, animated neon signs and electronic billboards, and architecturally distinctive buildings? I would like to see any evidence that any automobile accident has ever been caused by a giant inflatable ape.

  • i am glad this is how the houston city council has chosen to spend their time. it would seem to me that a city as large as houston has plenty of topics to address before we get to the point of the inflatable gorilla. i am waiting for the sign the gorilla is holding to say “don’t pay attention to our low prices!”

    i think that would get around the law as it is no longer an attention getting device

  • These council peoples is akin to the senators who busy-bodyied over which overpaid baseball star did what kind of steroids all the while the country was teetering on the precipice of financial disaster.

    I do think the low flying airplanes dragging banners are an annoyance. Mostly because they sound like they about to crash-land any moment while flying LOW circles above the hood.

  • Please tell me there are better things on the city councils agenda than to debate the merits of a blow up doll. My street is still torn up from construction projects. How about debating the merits of fixing that?

  • City Council said “the ban (is) a necessary step to cleaning up Houston’s blighted visual atmosphere and cluttered streetscapes.” Really???

    Have any council members driven through the streets of Houston particularly inside the loop – ever? The inflatables are nothing compared to the mishmash of utility poles, wires, and cables that crisscross residential streets and major avenues all over town. Just look up, it’s a complete wreck.

    There seems to be absolutely no regulations regarding where they are placed, how they are hung, how many per block, how ow they hang, how many per building, etc., and there is no coordination of the various utility’s cables and poles. It is a mess. Drive down Dunlavy, Fairview, Westheimer, Shepherd, West Gray, Jensen or most any other street and look up at the what is truly a “blighted visual atmosphere”.

  • John,

    The problem is that regulations got the power poles where they are today.

    Also, the city doesn’t have the power to force power lines underground and out of the way. The city would have to pony up the money when they rebuild a street to put power lines down. Good news is the that the Kirby Street reconstruction will do this for that section.

  • I think as a protest, the makers of giant inflatable gorillas should erect 10 story giant inflatable gorillas (bright purple, natch) on either side of the North Sam Houston Parkway (outside the city limits) to greet visitors who have flown in to our fair, inflatable-blight-free utopia.

  • HAHA! and a banner that says “Welcome to Monkey Town!”

  • The move to ban inflatable signs has two false assumptions at its core.

    One – that Houston has a naturally beautiful and scenic landscape that will be revealed when the signs are down. What’s natural and scenic about Houston are the clouds, everything else shows the sign of human hands, the prairie is all but gone.

    Two – that Houston drivers will magically begin to drive competently once all highway distractions have been removed. Houston drivers are by far the most incompetent and scatter brained and dangerous of any people in the world. The only things that would help to make them safer are banning cellphone use while driving, and teaching Houstonians how to look down the road beyond the 2 feet of highway that are directly in front of the nose of their car or truck.

  • Cellphone banning is just like the blow gorilla ban. It’s a waste of time for city council to care.

    The problem with Houston drivers are no different than any other city. Most drivers are selfish and don’t think of the rest of the vehicles on the road. Trying to cross three lanes at the last minute is a very selfish (and stupid) act. Just miss your exit and go to the next one. The last minute breaking and lane changing is one of the largest contributors to our traffic.

    On top of selfish driving, we have the added bonus of 1000s of illegal immigrants that don’t understand the rules of the road in the US and know that in a sanctuary city like Houston they won’t get tickets or arrested for violations unless someone is killed.

  • “On top of selfish driving, we have the added bonus of 1000s of illegal immigrants that don’t understand the rules of the road in the US and know that in a sanctuary city like Houston they won’t get tickets or arrested for violations unless someone is killed.”

    That’s kind of a shocking claim to make. Is it actually truw that illegal aliens are not ticketed or arrested for moving violations? Sounds kind of far-fetched to me.

  • I think the “1000s” is a low number. The US Census Bureau estimates near 1-million illegal immigrants in the Houston metropolitan area (8 counties).

  • The problem with Houston developers is no different than in any other city. Most developers are selfish and don’t think of the rest of the people who live here. Building an ugly obstacle-course sidewalk is just a very selfish (and stupid) act. Just rip it out, get the utilities relocated and build a new one. All this griping about not being required to do any better is one of the largest contributors to our city’s ugliness.

    On top of selfish development, we have the added bonus of 1000s of builders and landlords that don’t understand the codes in the US and know that in a sanctuary city like Houston they won’t get tickets or arrested for violations unless someone is killed.

  • So depressing. I will miss those poufy gorillas and their ilk. Solves nothing, makes the streetscape less interesting and even uglier. Thanks a lot, nanny state!

  • If you want to buy that inflatable gorilla direct from the manufacturer go to ;)