Memo to City: Our Coke Sign Is “Vintage Commercial Art”

Vintage Coke Sign
This would be funny, but for the fact that it’s also so sadly emblematic of the entire farce…

During a meeting yesterday to discuss Supervisor David Campos’s proposal to save Bernalwood’s historic Coca-Cola sign, our City bureaucrats ran up against a very difficult challenge: What should these kind of signs be called?????

The stoic Will Kane from the San Francisco Chronicle attended the meeting, and he manages to tell the tale while more or less maintaining a straight face:

At their meeting Thursday, planning commissioners were stuck trying to find words besides “commemorative” and “historic” to describe, well, historic, commemorative signs.

The sign in question was the infamous vintage Coca-Cola sign in Bernal Heights. Estimated to have been painted in the 1930s, the city determined in February that it was actually an “unpermitted general advertising sign” and required it be painted over.

The outcry from neighbors and local bloggers caused Supervisor David Campos, whose district includes the sign, to introduce legislation to protect historic – er, commemorative, er special – signs in San Francisco.

That legislation was approved unanimously Thursday, but not before a discussion about the best way to describe the sign. City staff said they wanted to avoid the word “historic” because that suggested the sign was a landmark with a capital L, like the iconic City Lights Bookstore.

But commissioners said they didn’t really like commemorative, either.

“That sounds like the Washington Mall and commemorative plaques and monuments et cetera,” said Commissioner Kathrin Moore. “This is more about honoring a period piece or whatever the proper word is. But it is not commemorative. I am not commemorating Coca Cola. It is really the role this piece plays as an expression of a particular place and time. Is there a better word? It is too serious, that word.”

HINT FOR CITY BUREAUCRATS: Here in Bernalwood, we view our Coke mural as “vintage commercial artwork.” We feel this phrasing affords such historic resources the proper respect they deserve. But if you’re feeling lazy, or worried about making all that fit in your Tweets, then “vintage sign” will certainly suffice. Knock yourself out.

On the bright side, the Planning Commission did approve Campos’s plan and passed it along to the Board of Supervisors, so we hope they will have better luck with this.

Okay… next agenda item?

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

8 thoughts on “Memo to City: Our Coke Sign Is “Vintage Commercial Art”

  1. I am heartened to hear that the Planning Commission came to this conclusion (regarding the legislation), and I have already emailed Supervisor Campos to tell him how I appreciated his even-handed approach.

    Regarding terminology, “vintage” seems fine to me.

    Regarding American Apparel ads: I highly doubt it. In fact, most ads today are so ephemeral because they are tightly controlled. It seems very unlikely that any sign or billboard not specifically paid for continuously by sponsor (and property owner) will not immediately be replaced, in part because of economic demands, and in part because of the very legislation that kicked off this Coke Sign Debate: you have to pay the City to have a sign that advertises something.

  2. The nomenclature committee seems to be the busiest of all committees. Vintage Commercial Artwork seems like the right way to go.

    I guess the library mural has been rightly classified as ‘Cultural Artwork That Was Nice Enough And Served Its Purpose, But Not Worth Designating As Historical, OK to Paint Over’ or “OKTPO” for short.

  3. The operative word here is “commercial”. If a small business owner wants to advertise he needs to play – and pay – by the rules. But the Bernal unhipsters want Coca-Cola to get a free ride because they were there first. Why?

    There’s nothing vintage about this sign. The paint is fresh and both logo and colors are the same Coke uses today. If an outsider looks at this will he say “oh look, an old-timey Coke billboard! How cool that they preserved it”? No, because this sign gives no clue that a sign has been there more than a few weeks.

    I’m amazed the people of Bernal get so wound up about this that they want to waste our elected official’s time (and thereby our collective funds) with it. I guess I’m spoiled living in a ‘hood that actually has something worth preserving.

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