A Southern California Sign Tour by Landmark Signs

Although I have not traveled around the world exploring the tragic ruins of Pompeii or walked up the ancient steps of the Pantheon, I have been fortunate enough to do my fair share of traveling.  And every place I have visited has been extremely different.  From the desert lands of Arizona to the coastal beauty in Santa Cruz, the vibrant city of New York and the historic cobble-stoned streets of Boston, I am always amazed at how unique each of these spots can be, wonderful in their individual surprises.  Although there are usually similarities in these towns, there is one constant that always stands out to me,  and that is signage.

No matter where we go, there is always signage.  Shops, restaurants, gas stations, public buildings, historic sites, these places all require signage to identify themselves and their locations.  Oftentimes, I find myself wondering what the story behind these signs are; what is their history?  They, like people, have a past.  They mark a moment in time, and even if their stay is temporary and eventually replaced by another, they represent people who wanted to be recognized and stand out from the rest of society.  And so with these thoughts in mind, let’s explore a little bit of Southern California history through a few Landmark Signs.

To start our journey through SC, let’s make our way to the southernmost region of the state in sunny San Diego.  The city itself is a wonderful spot to visit, the past still very much in the present to be enjoyed in Old Towne San Diego, the Hotel del Coronado, and of course where the first sign on our tour is located, the Gaslamp Quarter.  The sign itself is made of neon and fluorescent lighting, capturing the historic significance of the site it represents as well as its colorful history.  Although not as old as many of the signs that can be found throughout California, for it was put up in 1989, it does however stand for an area that dates as far back as 1867.

Named for “the gas lamps that were common in San Diego in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” it was begun by Alonzo Horton with the intention of the moving the city’s center closer to the bay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslamp_Quarter,_San_Diego).  Like much of California’s early towns, it once housed saloons, gambling halls, and bordellos and is a popular tourist stop today.  The city gave it a much need renovation in the 70’s and 80’s, modernizing it while still keeping track of its historic feel, a moment marked by a creative and unique sign.

As we make our way towards Orange County, remember that it is a land formerly inhabited by orange and avocado groves, only to be later replaced by Housewives and suburbia.  All stereotypes aside, it is a great area with beaches, cities, mountains and any type of entertainment one could possibly think of: a county that I am proud to call my own.  As one of its many inhabitants, its diverse features, people and cities are what I think of when it comes to mind.  However, I can imagine that it is difficult to envision Orange County without picturing the welcoming gates of Disneyland.  There is no doubt that it is a stomping ground for kids, but even adults cannot help but be charmed by the magical world Walt Disney created back in 1955.

It has certainly undergone its fair share of renovations and been transformed to the point of being almost a completely different park from what it originally was.  And of course, the sign is no exception.  The first photo here was taken in 1962 and features the initial sign installed at the same time the park was opened, while the photo on the right displays the current sign.   The signs show another transformation, as Disneyland changes from being described “Entrance Park & Hotel” to “The Happiest Place on Earth.”  But hey, Disneyland is a staple tourist destination for Orange County, and as soon as one enters into its green gates surrounded by the comforting smell of baked goods while Jasmine sings to us in the distance, the sign proves to be right, even if just for an instant.

Traveling on the 405 towards Los Angeles, we are going to make a slight detour and head on over to the coast, stopping at the Santa Monica Pier.  Today it is blocks from unlimited shopping, restaurants and entertainment while the pier itself contains some of the same with a few amusement rides as well.  Of course, ideas of recreation have varied as time goes on and the Santa Monica Pier is a perfect example of this.  According to the Santa Monica Pier website, when the pier opened in 1909, “Thousands of people swarmed onto the 1,600-foot-long concrete pier to enjoy a festive day of band concerts, swimming races and the novelty of walking above the waters of the Pacific Ocean” (http://www.santamonicapier.org/history/).  The picture to the right proves this statement to be true as it is a photograph from that very same day.

The sign was erected in 1941, made of eye-catching neon and is another reflection of the changing times, advertising its main attractions as “fishing and boating”, something most do not associate with the pier today.  This antique sign is a symbol of not only a popular tourist destination, but boldly represents the shifting culture of Southern California.

Our final destination on our sign tour of Southern California is not only the oldest sign we have looked at, but it is also arguably the most iconic.  Featured in screen shots of many movies and an international symbol of the Hollywood lifestyle, the Hollywood sign in a very well-known landmark.  It encapsulates Hollywood history, representing more than just the film industry, the people and the city; it is also a symbol of opportunity for anyone who desires to “make it in Hollywood.”  I can’t help but think that it has awed many would-be hopefuls as they have made their way towards Los Angeles, with suitcases in the trunk of their car and dreams vividly swirling through their imaginations.

What has come to be an icon of Hollywood history started out as an advertisement in 1923 and originally read “Hollywoodland.”  As age took its toll on the sign, it was in desperate need of a facelift and was renovated in 1978.  According to the almighty wikipedia, it has also undergone changes to mark monumental events.  For example, in 1978, it was changed to read “Holyland” in honor of Pope John Paul II visiting and was later altered to read “Oil War” for the Gulf War in 1991 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollywood_Sign).  More of a Landmark Sign than any other sign on our visit, the Hollywood Sign stands for Los Angeles and really, all of Southern California, as it speaks of our past, reminds us of the present, and gives hope for a worthwhile future.

As we can see, signs are more than just advertisements or words on a building.  They tell of a tale that may have never been otherwise told.  They signify monumental instances in a culture’s past and can be used by those who desire to leave their mark on the world.  As long as there are people living and interacting with the outside world, there will always be signs with the potential to become Landmarks.  We hope you have enjoyed your sign tour of Southern California.  Do not forget any of your belongings, be sure to visit our gift shop and please come again.

© Landmark Signs Inc. 2012

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