Nameless NIMBY Gets Bullheaded Bureaucrats to Outlaw Historic Coca-Cola Sign

This is an unfortunate story about a neighborhood landmark, the NIMBY menace, City bureaucracy, and a call to action for Bernal Heights history geeks. More or less in that order. Follow along…

Decades ago, the building at 601 Tompkins Avenue, at the corner of Banks in Bernal Heights, may have once been a corner store. It’s now a private home, but a vintage Coca-Cola advertising sign from the earlier days has remained on the building regardless. Bernalwood’s irate tipster explains the situation:

Is this perhaps a little bureaucracy run amok in Bernal; the inevitable fallout from our Supervisors trying to outlaw sugary drinks?

The antique Coca-Cola ad has been part of the corner of Banks and Tomkins probably since the 1940’s at least.  In my 30 years in Bernal, the homeowners have lovingly preserved this little bit of old Bernal—probably the last remnant of a grocery on that corner.

Now the City is apparently citing them for an unauthorized billboard.  Note that the Planning Department documents say the homeowners must pay $3400 just to appeal the decision.

This is madness. A way-cool vintage Coke sign, preserved by neighborhood old-timers, is targeted for citation and removal by clueless City sign inspectors? Really? Why? And why does the San Francisco Planning Department hate America so much?

Bernalwood attempted to contact the property owner, but so far our efforts have been unsuccessful. We also called the City Planning Department, to ask WTF. This proved fruitful.

The City action against the vintage Coke sign came as the result of a complaint about the sign that was submitted by a nameless NIMBY whiner on January 14, 2011. With impressive alacrity, the Planning Department investigated the matter, and on January 25, 2011 a City notice was posted to indicate that the old sign must be either permitted or removed.

Bernalwood spoke to Mr. Dan Sider from the Planning Department’s General Advertising Sign Program . Mr. Sider had photos of the sign at 601 Tompkins at his disposal during our talk, and he was quite friendly. Yet when told that the Coke sign has been there since the 1940s, he seemed skeptical. It looks new, he said, and in fairness, he’s right — it does look new. “That’s because it’s been lovingly repainted and maintained by the neighbors,” Bernalwood explained sweetly.

Mr. Sider seemed surprised. “As a San Franciscan, I think that’s very neat,” he said. “But it is very clearly an illegal sign, and we don’t have much discretion.”

“But… but… surely there must be some way to save this historic piece of commercial art!” Bernalwood pleaded.

Indeed, Mr. Sider explained, there is. If some evidence can be produced that the sign was in place prior to 1965 (when the City’s operative sign ordinances went into effect), the matter may be resolved pleasantly. “But the clock is ticking,” he said. Said evidence must be received by February 24, 2011 — within 30 days of the issuance of the initial citation — or else fines may begin to kick in.

UPDATE 23 February, 2011: Evidence of the vintage mural’s provenance has now been obtained, confirming that it is genuinely way old — probably a relic from the 1940s. But the struggle with the San Francisco Planning Department continues. Read all about it.

So, concerned Bernalwood citizen, there are two things you can now do:

2) Help track down evidence — preferably a photograph or other document — that demonstrates the old Coke sign on the side of 601 Tompkins has indeed been there since the Kennedy Administration, if not before. Activate your geektastic history researcher kung-fu powers, and keep your fingers crossed. If you find anything, Bernalwood will gladly pass it along to our friends at the Planning Department. But remember, the DEADLINE IS FEBRUARY 24.

2) Call our Supervisor, Mr. David Campos to advise him of your interest in this matter. Admittedly, the preservation of vintage commercial art is hardly a core plank in his Progressive agenda. Yet this is also the kind of stuff that gives a neighborhood a tangible connection to its own history — and that matters a lot.  Besides, if they do nothing else, our Supervisors exist precisely to represent us when dealing with City Hall silliness. Perhaps Supervisor Campos could put in a call to Mr. Sider? Perhaps you’d like to call Supervisor Campos to suggest that idea? Supervisor Campos can be reached at (415) 554-5144.

Photos: Anonymous Tipster

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111 thoughts on “Nameless NIMBY Gets Bullheaded Bureaucrats to Outlaw Historic Coca-Cola Sign

  1. Mr. Lapin, have you even seen the sign? If you did, you would have noticed that you are standing in front of an elementary school. Probably not coincidentally, this sign aims right at the kids in the schoolyard and the entrance of the Paul Revere School. By now, we all should know about the effects that such high-sugar drinks have on kids’ health. And we can’t pretend such advertising does not leave an impression on kids at young age. There are a lot of commendable efforts to improve the quality of food in schools (also here in Bernal Heights). Such signs strive in the opposite direction.

    I don’t know if the person who you call a whiner had child obesity and diabetes on her mind. Such concerns trump the nostalgy for historic signs. Hopefully, Mr. Campos and decision makers will put young lives over old dead things.

    • Ian: Seriously? SERIOUSLY?! You have got to be kidding. I don’t even know what to say in response to this sort of codswallop.

    • Ian, yes, I did visit the site.

      Thank you for your comments, but I don’t find your argument persuasive. In fact, I think it should be sealed in amber as a perfect example of NIMBY control-freakishness at its most insidious.

      The kids are alright.

      • Hear, hear. And I applaud your common-sense reply. You are clearly much better at maintaining your composure in the the face of nonsense than I am.

      • The historic look of the sign makes me happy. I will offer to the city/Campos to put it in MY BACKYARD as long as it moved away from the elementary school. It will look fab next to the old faded Clorox sign on our fence. Our kids are in college and have been making their own food choices for a while now.

    • Well, what is NIMBY? Resistance to something in the greater good once it inconeniences your little world?
      Promoting healthy food for children has found a wide consensus (no, the kids are not alright, yet). But “please don’t do any thing to MY sign”. THAT would be classic NIMBY.
      The Paul Revere school is not my direct backyard. I care about moving advertising for junk food or smoking away from elementary schools anywhere, not matter how retro the ad is, or how iconic the Marlboro man has become.

      • Ian:

        Yes, you’ve nailed it on the head: This is about young lives! The evil corporate machine conspires to destroy America with sweet sugary drinks but for the brave, brave voice of (wait for it) IAN! And Eric Mar! And Monet Parham-Lee!

        Poppycock. This is more about smug, officious, anonymous sh*ts that blame others for their own failings as parents and citizens. Teach delayed gratification, don’t buy that soda, learn to say no (and mean it) – stop blaming advertisers and teachers when your kids turn out obese and stupid and lazy. Besides, it is an historic sign- and if you think history is about “dead old things” then you have my sympathies.

      • Leaving aside the fact that equating sugary drinks with cigarettes is utterly specious… The painted work isn’t “retro.” It is a surviving piece of original, historical commercial artwork.

      • Paul Revere is in my direct backyard. Every day I get empty bottles of Gatorade and candy bar wrappers collecting into my driveway b/c of the 4 o’clock winds. I suspect that removing that sign would have little or no impact on the sugar consumption of those kids.

        Keep in mind that if this sign advertised fruit (one of those old 50’s ads) your entire argument falls apart.

      • Ian, it sounds like you have issues far beyond a vintage Coke sign. Control freaks like you need a reality check. I’ll be happy to provide one.

    • Oh, yes, kids today wouldn’t drink Coke unless they had the subliminal suggestions from this sign. FYI there is way more sugar in “100% Juice” than in many sodas if you look at the nutritional label. “Child obesity and diabetes” happens as much from drinking excessive fruit juice just as much as from soda.

    • My kid goes to Paul Revere. Thanks for your concern, but if I was at all worried about this, I do believe can shield her eyes from the dreaded artwork using my own amazing superpowers of parental control.

    • When I was in elementary school in the early 70’s in Belgium, the only drink available on the schoolyard was Coke from a vending machine. I personally don’t remember any of the kids suffering from obesity or diabetes. Maybe you should have a look at the rest of the menu before you put all the blame on sugary drinks. Coke certainly isn’t the healthiest drink on the market but it was there long before kids started getting all these nasty diseases.

  2. Wow! That is really kind of messed up. Hopefully someone can find some sort of photographic proof that will allow it to be grandfathered in. In the meantime I have written to Supe. Campos, and I hope other people will, too.

  3. I hate advertising. Hate hate hate. I voted against the “billboards on Market Street” thing so hard I nearly broke the pen.

    But this sign is alright. It’s been here as long as I’ve been here (not long, five years?) and if people didn’t have a problem with it then, why is it a problem now?

  4. So the argument is that this large Coca-Cola logo on the side of a building is not actually an advertisement for Coke, but is actually a historic painting of a Coca-Cola logo?

      • Similar to the “LIPTON’S TEA” stencils that remain on some windows above former storefronts on Cortland St.

      • That’s a better argument (although less interesting from a legal standpoint) but it seems to take a sign, even an old one, kind of seriously. I wouldn’t petition to remove it, but I also don’t think it’s worth landmarking. I’m not going to base my neighborhood identity on an old billboard.

    • Your argument seems to be influenced by the fact that Coca-Cola is still a large, successful company (for better or worse). Would you feel the same way if it were a historical piece of commercial artwork that had originally advertised something that no longer exists? Or even just a smaller business?

      I wonder if the owner of the building with the historical “HASTA BE SHASTA” painting on Potrero is getting hassled by the city, for instance.
      (re: http://www.flickr.com/photos/daver6/3664775522/ )

      • It does matter (legally) that this an ad for an active and well known company, in that it could be mistaken for an actual ad, have the same impact as an ad, and is de facto a functioning ad. That’s why anti-advertising laws probably apply to this case, as opposed to an ad for Ye Olde Biscuit Company that is clearly just a nostalgic holdover. But my main complaint is that an old shop sign would be fetishized as a “historic piece of commercial art that is part of the identity of our neighborhood,” as if a billboard should be landmarked just for being old.

      • Ah, but James… no one is saying the sign should be landmarked just because it is old. They are saying it should not be targeted for city-sponsored eradication because someone objects to the content.

      • I’m not sure why that would bother you, that is, in fact, the very NATURE of structures and/or locations being, as you say, “landmarked.” There are several criteria that are considered as part of the process of declaring something a protected landmark, and age is one of them.

        I also can’t really wrap my head around why you feel there is any qualitative difference between a piece of historical artwork (or, in your words, “nostalgic holdover”) for Coca-Cola versus Lipton’s Tea versus Shasta versus Ye Olde Biscuit Company. I disagree strongly with your assertion that the brand being advertised makes any difference whatsoever. (within reason, and barring extremes. If it were a billboard advertising Smilin’ Uncle Stalin’s Pro-Pogrom Breakfast Flakes or something my opinion might differ. But, then again, might not. Who can say.)

        However, this entire argument, and my points, would be moot if this were NOT a historical feature of the neighborhood. According to what Todd posted above, it sounds like the cut-off for grandfathering status is 1965. That sounds reasonable, it is actually somewhat more liberal than the California SHPO regs. However, judging by the style of the artwork/logo, (and assuming it is NOT a more recent “retro” piece), it would probably be old enough to fall under the SHPO limit as well. But don’t quote me on that, I haven’t done any work with SHPO sites in the better part of a decade, so my memories could be a bit hazy.

    • The person who filed the complaint probably won’t even be living here in a few years either- we’ve been getting to many of these “swoop in” do-gooders who damage our city and then leave.

    • I have updated my site with my preliminary research results.

      In short, I found “Tipton’s Gro” listed at 601 Tompkins in the 1964-65 city directory. This may help you search photograph collections. Bernal residents might want to ask around if anyone remembers Tipton’s.

      • Have you checked out Sanborn maps? Those will often differentiate for commercial/retail properties.

      • I can’t reply to your comment, Herr Doktor. Not sure why.

        Neither Banks nor Tompkins is listed on the index of the Sanborn maps from 1913-1950.

      • I found it on the Sanborns for 1914 – Feb. 1950, in Volume 8. It is listed as a Store on there, for whatever it is worth.

        See: http://tinyurl.com/499jo9e

        As a side note, looks like Tompkins Ave used to be named “Union Ave

  5. The NIMBY do-gooder arguments do more to undermine their case than anything else. Their mushy thinking combined with the feel good politics that symbolic actions trump real action make them a dangerous joke in the City.

    By the way – we didn’t ban plastic bags in SF and Happy Meals are still being sold, minus the toy. So while the Do Gooders feel good, they didn’t really do anything!

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  7. Ian, why are you even living in San Francisco, when anodyne suburbs provide the perfect bubble-like existence your children and their peers seem to demand? Perhaps a planned, gated community with no diversions of any kind will be what is needed to prevent the children (and they ARE the future!) from being contaminated by such awful things as red and white painted advertising for The Pause That Refreshes.

    Or you’re trolling, and you’re doing an excellent job. Gold star.

  8. This is a pretty fascinating little case study. Preservation of historic neighborhood character is good. Corporate advertising–particularly targeting children for unsafe behavior–is bad. (At least in my world view. I think a total ban on advertising to kids would be a wonderful thing that would have untold benefits for society.)

    All in all, it looks to me like a debate about a niche moral grey area, and it’d be nice if y’all could acknowledge the possible validity of competing arguments.

  9. This is certainly teaching me a few lessons. WHAT IF the sign became a key component in a curriculum at Paul Revere and perhaps other schools to follow, which teaches the kids the importance of making sound choices as little consumers, in spite of the ubiquitousness of commercial advertising wherever and however it is put in front of their eyeballs?

  10. Ian, Jeremy, and the misnamed “NIMBY”:

    Thank you for your dead-on comments, and for bringing this to the City’s attention. Childhood obesity has become a national problem, and I personally feel the health of our children should come ahead of nostalgia for a sign — historic or faux. Given that the sign in question markets a sugary beverage in front of an elementary school, I can’t support keeping it. I suggest everyone view the link Ian posted before unleashing such harshly directed comments. Feel free to agree to disagree, but let’s try to keep Bernalwood an open forum free of verbal attacks.

    • Respectfully, it is not a verbal attack to say that this sort of nervous-nellie thinking epitomizes the NIMBY mindset. And I say that as the parent of a child who — by your logic — is in danger of having her poor little mind contaminated by a Coca-Cola sign. I respect your right to feel anxious about this. I do not respect your right to impose your anxieties upon the rest of the community.

      • People who feel anxious because of a Coca-Cola sign are doomed to lives of anxiety. No matter how much success they have lobbying the politicians to protect them and their helpless children, there will always be more things to make them anxious. If they hadnt already exhausted my patience, I’d pity them.

    • Maybe instead of trying to decide for everyone else’s children what’s appropriate, you can simply educate your own child about health concerns and leave everyone else alone?

  11. I know the owners of this home, and they are not paid by anyone for maintaining the sign. That means the sign is not advertising within any meaningful definition of that word. They, like many others, appreciate the aesthetic and historic value of the sign, which was very obviously originally painted long before 1965. That is the only reason that they have preserved it. If they are bullied into painting it over, I don’t see that as cause for celebration, nor do I see it as a meaningful victory in what I consider to be legitimate and commendable efforts to discourage the consumption of corn syrup drinks. Nothing will be accomplished by obliterating this bit of neighborhood history other than taking away something that brings joy to some and is at worst a minor annoyance to others.

      • David,
        If you know them, then please refer them to some of my posts further down.
        The City actually defaced their sign by taping the notice to it.
        Maybe they should consider that as an illegal act by the SF Planning Board.
        Even if they don’t approve of the sign, SF had NO RIGHTS to modify it in any manner until the issue is solved.
        DUE PROCESS!

        Innocent until proven guilty.

  12. I worked for a period of time in the outdoor advertising industry, so I’ve got to add some reality to the conversation. Here is what will happen if the City is somehow convinced to let this sign stay. (1) It will have to be considered a legal “general advertising sign.” (2) The landlord will be approached by a large sign company. CBS Outdoor or ClearChannel, to take a guess. (3) That large company will offer to pay the property owner a pretty penny to take control of the sign. (4) The property owner will accept, because, well… it’s free money. (5) The quaint Coca Cola copy that we all love will vanish in an instant. (6) You, me, and the kids at the school across the street will be subjected to ads for iPods, booze, and whatever else the Man is trying to sell these days. Not pleasant, but it’s the most likely outcome by miles.

    • I hope never to be invited to your “reality”.

      That’s quite a logical leap from “classic mural exists on house” to “rotating billboard in center of residential neighborhood”.

      • SoggyCherrios’ example is a legitimate concern. In Westwood (LA), there was a 9/11 memorial banner painted 8 stories high on the side of a building in 2001. It was somewhat memorial, but it was also promotional because the artist was self-publicizing by doing a series of similar images. The artist was sued by the city for violating zoning rules. A little bit after the lawsuit was settled on first amendement rights, the artist was given permission to keep any signs that fit some vague rules about signing in compliance with the business. Almost immediately after that, the sign turned into an 8 story high revolving door of movie advertisements towering over a neighborhood that had previously had little advertising. Here’s a link to a full story.

        Note that I find it ridiculous to eradicate the Coke sign in question, but it’s important to be careful about specifying what is and is not allowed when it’s saved.

    • This is not the same situation at all. This is not something that would be looked into to be preserved as an advertisement or a billboard, but rather a historical feature/point of interest.

  13. a very similar coca cola advertisement from texas

    fwiw coke switched from “drink coca-cola” to “enjoy coca-cola” in most of their advertising at some point…

  14. possibly you can check the history of coca cola advertising and find out when they changed the slogan (looks to be early ’60’s) and that might lead to some leeway.

    to Ian, Holly and like minded, use your own brains and think for yourselves, don’t put responsibility for your own actions (or lack thereof) on others shoulders and don’t presume to take responsibility for mine.

    If your (______) ends up fat, lazy, and or, diabetic is that my fault or Coca Cola’s?
    if you can’t exert some SELF CONTROL do you expect some one else to do it for you?
    education starts at home, teach your children.

    we need less regulation not more. And, its just art.

  15. Having the school use the sign as a teaching tool: what a good idea. And if the comment of “Soggycheerios” is correct, then obviously the city would need to agree to this sign, and this one alone, no other … can the Planning Department make that a condition of approval?

    The sign may have been repainted, perhaps many times, but it is clearly not the current advertising style of Coca-Cola … just look at the cute 50’s clothing style of the girl in the silhouette drinking out of the bottle. No way is that today’s advertising.

    Of course it should stay, and the city planners should find a way to grant a one time waiver for the sign in its current form, with the proviso that the property owner look after it reasonably well.

  16. Only a quarter of the historical photo collection is online. You have to go in person… and ask for the street block. The really helpful librarian will bring you back a folder of photos for that particular block.

  17. Great post!

    What a waste of time by the city and whomever notified the city.

    This is not ‘advertising’ in the sense of real advertising these days, although it may be a past remnant of that. The sign is nice and adds character and history to the neighborhood.

    Kids are already inundated with advertising by Coke and many similar products, this one nice little historic sign will have no effect if it stays or goes, scare tactics about important problems like obesity do not get to the real problem and there should certainly be no Coke in the schools, and modern advertising should not surround the schools.

    I know kids in this school and have a child in elementary school (not at paul revere), and the fact that it is for Coke is probably not even noticed by kids

    If you think the sign should be taken down and you do not live close to here then you are welcome to your opinion, but your opinion does not deserve any action in my neighborhood.

  18. Overall, The sign looks pleasing to the eye. And it brings a smile to my face. Is’nt there more important things in San Franciso that has to taken care of than this? I think the new Gov should get rid of all of these leeches in the “Publie Non- Service” department.

  19. Yes. If this sign is taken away, all those children will completely forget that Coca Cola exists, and go about their juice drinking, healthy lives. Right.

  20. Oh dear! What have I wrought?

    Well, I am the “anonymous irate tipster” but irate is not at all an accurate description; “sedate” would be closer to the mark. I merely saw this action by the Planning Department, thought it was silly and that it would be an interesting post for BW. This sign now seems to have been pressed into serving all kinds of political and personal agendas. Geez. I don’t even want to think about what’s going to happen around the library mural.

    I do appreciate all the shoe leather reporting Mr. Lappin has done.

    I have also enjoyed the posts by the children’s crusaders. They are as entertaining as Tea Party pronouncements with that wonderful self righteous lunacy hiding behind—you name it: children, apple pie, freedom, deficits, the gold standard, etc.

    But it’s only a mural, folks.

    I do want to apologize to the home owners for unintentionally bringing this all down upon them. I’ll be more careful in the future.

    • Many, many thoughts.

      1) I live two blocks from the sign, and I can personally vouch for it being there since at least 2000 (when I moved into the neighborhood). I observed when it was being repainting sometime in the past 6 years or so.

      2) I really like the sign.

      3) I drink Coca-Cola in moderation, and I don’t let my kids drink it (yet). It is my responsibility to guide them into making good choices.

      4) There is sort of point about it being close to a school, but it is such a dated advertisement that kids are doubtlessly more influenced by the shiny, flashy things selling things to them.

      5) I bet the Bernal Library might have some photos worth looking through.

      6) I looked at a few sites showing Coca-Cola ad history, and it seems they dropped “Drink Coca-Cola” somewhere in the 1950s or 1940s. Plus, the silhouette style of the woman in the ad seems 30s or 40s to my eye.

      7) I will be greatly disappointed if the owner of the building is required to take down that sign.

      8) The logic of prohibiting the sign because the product encourages a bad habit is completely suspect. Why would it only apply here? There are gigantic signs for _Vodka_ visible along 101 on the way to Bernal — where’s the outrage? I can’t stop my kids for seeing that sign!

  21. There isn’t a photo in the SFPL’s collection that shows this — BHP went through the archives pretty thoroughly a couple of years ago. Christina Moretta of SFPL told us last night at our research presentation that there might be more pictures in the assessor’s negatives collection, but that would entail going to the History Center in the Main Library.

    I’m hoping some neighbors who live south of Cortland, as I do, might come up with stories and/or pictures of the store as it was.

  22. Also, each building has its own record at the Assessor-Recorder’s Office downtown. Not sure whether you have to be the homeowner to see them, but there may be photos or other information in there.

  23. I’m a Bernal native and Paul Revere alum. I remember the sign from my time as a student there – in the mid 80’s.

    How have I turned out after my childhood exposure to the sign? I’m a Michael Pollan reading vegetarian CSA farm member who rarely drinks sodas of any sort. That sign didn’t make a significant difference in my dietary choices as a kid or my dietary trajectory in life, and I doubt it will make a big difference in the dietary choices of current Paul Revere students. If people are really concerned about the quantity of sugar consumed by those kids (a quite legitimate concern) there are better ways to do something effective to combat the problem. Start or support a school garden program. Fight for local, healthy, non-industrial school lunches. Teach the kids about advertising (perhaps using that sign as a historical example) to help them have the tools to think for themselves and combat the modern targeted advertising messages that bombard them in their daily lives.

    As a kid, I thought of that sign as an interesting historical item, tying me and the present day to the history of my neighborhood, and I hope present and future Paul Revere students get the chance to feel that connection to the neighborhood history themselves.

  24. That said, the archives of the Bernal Journal and the New Bernal Journal (1962?-present) are stored behind the counter at the Bernal library. Maybe someone with more time on their hands could go through them and look for a mention of the store/ad? (There are four boxes, as I recall — some of the early BJs are really just newsletters, double-sided pages.)

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  27. The time and money would be better spent cleaning up trash and the school grounds than worrying about the Coke sign. Better yet, have the kids do it and they might learn something about responsibility. Oh wait, someone would probably call child services.

  28. I grew up in that neighborhood and went to school at Paul Revere in the late 60’s-early 70’s. The building used to be a corner grocer, one that would be swamped with kids buying bubblegum, trading cards and penny candy as soon as school let out. It was shoulder to shoulder kids in that little store, the stressed out owner running the register while at the same time trying to keep an eye on all of us. I think the store was Tipton’s as the owner was refereed to as “Mrs. Tips” by all of us.
    Could well have been an advertisement for Coca Cola back then, don’t remember it though.

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  31. What bothers me is that NIMBYs constantly abuse historical preservation processes that ensure that we keep decrepit structures with no redeeming value, but when it comes to actual things of historical value, the historical preservation people are nowhere to be found. Why is that?

  32. I saw the article, but have not read all of the responses, so forgive me if this is repetitious.
    The owner of the property, and the sign, is MORE than within their Legal Rights to cover the existing sign with another message if they’d like, i.e.,
    “The San Francisco Planning Department is Attempting to VIOLATE MY FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS.
    Having to PAY THEM to defend my rights to keep this sign on my wall is illegal.
    They will be spending YOUR TAX DOLLARS to attempt to strip me of my (our) rights to Free Speech.
    WHEN they are unsuccessful, they will have to pay their OWN Legal Fees, PLUS MY Legal Fees, PLUS up to $10,000 in Punitive Damages for this silly effort.
    Your Tax Dollars at Work!”

    The SF Planning Department must PROVE how this particular sign is a danger to the well-being of the citizens, a pedestrian or vehicular hazard, or a few other choice problems.
    The ONUS, or burden of proof, is on the SF Planning Department. This is NOT a Building Code issue, it is a SPEECH issues, and therefore, the issue is Constitutional, not within the rights of the department.
    The OWNER does not have to prove WHY he should be able to keep the sign – the SF Planners must prove that it is DETRIMENTAL!

    This is a sign that the owner of the building wants on his building. That’s HIS RIGHT, and in order for him to be stripped of that right, the municipality must follow a very strict scrutiny.

    Below is a link to the International Sign Association – specifically the Government Relations section.
    The SignLine PDFs are documents that are listed, are concerned with Sign Issues & Municipalities. Many of these will relate to the Coke sign on his wall.
    Since this is NOT a Commercial Building, and it is a privately owned wall, I would see some crossover between the Commercial Rights, but he may have even better Personal Speech Rights to protect him .

    This is the Main Page of the SignLine Series: http://www.signs.org/GovernmentRelations/Signline.aspx

    These are just two of many that may apply to this case.
    LOTS to read… start now :)

    http://www.signs.org/Portals/0/docs/signline/signline_35.pdf

    http://www.signs.org/Portals/0/docs/signline/signline_32.pdf

    • While I can’t disagree with the logic, I’m pretty sure that isn’t the law.

      I think what’s being said by the planning department is that this sign constitutes advertising (which at this point I disagree with), and a law passed decades ago brought advertising under regulations set by the City.

      You may challenge the constitutionality of that law, those regulations, or find a way to exempt this case from that law. But we are a society of law.

    • That raises an interesting point… I’d bet that Coca-Cola, as a corporation, has a corporate archivist/historian’s office. Many large (and old) companies do. It would probably be worth contacting them, they may be able to give us a more specific time period when that specific artwork was being used. I mean, as the photo from Texas proves, the mural follows a specified pattern that I can only assume would have been set/dictated by the corporate office.

  33. Legally, evidence can also just be in the form of testimony. If someone can submit a signed declaration confirming the existence of the sign and that the design has remained essentially unchanged since at least 1964, that should do it (in the absence of any contradictory evidence).

    • But… does the CONTENT of the sign actually matter?
      … and if so, then it DOES become primarily a First Amendment issue.

      The message on the sign is legal (not impeding pedestrian or vehicular traffic; not hanging dangerously; not pornographic, inciting, untrue, confusing with traffic signals, etc.) so even if it has changed several times, it shouldn’t matter.

  34. Realize, that by allowing a “Grandfathered” Sign, you are essentially saying that the entity which has been around longer, has more rights to speech than a newcomer.
    Essentially the City is singling out this property owner as an offender, but is it fair to say that he should be disallowed/allowed solely because this sign has been on his wall for a longer or shorter time than any other sign? (“I’ve been here longer, therefore I get to play by different rules – even “illegal” ones!”?)

    Which “slippery slope” do you wish to choose – the one which restricts Freedom of Speech, or the one which favors one entity over another?

    In addition to the obvious First Amendment then, the Fourteenth Amendment enters into play with its Equal Protection clause.
    Not only is this speech being squelched, but if another is being allowed (even on a fence, next to a Clorox sign), then his rights are affected.

    The sensibilities of one generation are being judged by the next generation, and along the way, someone will always attempt to interject their personal agenda (Coke is bad for kids).
    The Nostalgia Factor tends to make some signs more acceptable, or preferred, than others, but “one man’s trash…”.
    If you’ll take note, this sign has remained because of a person’s desire to update/refurbish it on a regular basis, where most similar signs have died a quiet death.
    Most things, like signs, have a natural lifespan, and without “life support” they will fade into oblivion.

    By the way, if I’m not mistaken, it appears that the sign is painted directly onto clapboard siding.
    I doubt that the owner would appreciate having his wall removed :)

  35. BTW, as far as determining the date by the design of the ad … I can reproduce an ad to represent ANY ERA… except the future, of course ;)
    I can even make it look old, AND use leaded paint to match the materials of the time.
    So I don’t think that will be proof enough.

    If anything, concentrate on finding photos (or park a ’54 Ford in front of it, and Photoshop it B&W).
    But my arguments above will still stand.

  36. i live closer to this sign than anyone on this thread, guaranteed. please don’t take our local neighborhood artwork away. seems like there is more than enough evidence this sign was here before 1965. it was touched up last year over the course of about two weeks.

  37. I think the city (planning dept) is kinda getting a bum rap here because 1) they didn’t go after the homeowner – they are responding to a complaint, and like the rep said, they don’t have a lot of discretion in how they do that. 2) it’s a pretty straight forward situation: the coke ad is a sign, even if it is also art and historic. so it falls under the same regs as any other painted sign. and if someone can prove it’s pre-’65 (which from the comments here, it seems should not be too hard), then it can stay. If it’s not pre-’65, is it really that “historic” then? All the other discussions about children/school/soda/advertising are not remotely in play in this situation, at least not legally. Anyway, just my 2cents.

  38. Pingback: It’s Really Old, Really: Evidence Proves Historic Provenance of Threatened Coca-Cola Mural | Bernalwood

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  41. Check with the Oakland Museum. They have a room filled with a huge collection of SF Bay photographes dating way back. I went there once looking for old photos of the Emeryville Mudflat Sculptures and they pointed me right to the spot where I found bunches of them. They are slides and you have to pay a nominal fee to get a photo printed. I don’t remember it being a ton of money at all. There is no fee to do research there.

  42. Several things (In disclosure, I am a graphic artist and non-resident in Bernal Heights but I do live in SF):

    1 – For money, has anyone bothered to contact Coca Cola? Surely a nice fat donation to the school/city’s health budget looks great as far as green-washing goes.

    2 – It’s a pretty crap sign, as historic signage goes. The preservation – it’s like putting metalflake paint on a Model-T ford! These signs only look good when they look beat to shit.

    3 – It’s only real historic merit is its location and its relationship to the location.

    4 – Since it is NOT an advert, and is NOT paid for by Coca Cola, why not ‘enhance’ it? The preservation has already ruined it’s aesthetic merit, so why not add “DON’T” before the “DRINK”? Why not turn it into a public health warning? Since the preservationists have already ruined it, it’s only a small concession to the pinheaded NIMBY’s who think their children are precious little jelly-heads and must be bubble-wrapped from the world.

    • Wow, you sure packed a whole bunch of subjective opinions into that.

      1) Why would Coke be contacted in order to pay money to support a mural? That would just give ammunition to people who claim it is an active billboard/advertisement.

      2) Y’think? It’s more like a frame-off restoration. It is a historically accurate conservation/restoration of the original. Not a copy. Speaking as an archaeologist, I can assure you that this is common practice in everything from documents to sculpture to architecture to vehicle preservation to the ceiling of the goddamn Sistine Chapel.

      3) Why do you say that?

      4) It could be altered, that would certainly be in keeping with murals as living artwork, however it would detract from the historical relevance.

      • 1 – I was just throwing the idea out there, somewhat lightheartedly. But: it’s an advert, plain and simple, no matter what you describe it as. Yes, it’s a mural, and circumstances should be made for its unusual situation. And that is that it’s an advertising mural. And there could be serious bank made from it. The community could turn this to its advantage. “Hey, Coke – want some community greenwashing handed to you on a plate? Cost ya!” Make the bastards pay.

        2 – All aesthetics are purely subjective, but I think the next ‘preservation’ could benefit from a sign-writer’s lighter touch, not a guy with a 2″ brush from Home Depot and a can of acrylic.

        3 – Kinda obvious, I know, but some people might gain something from reading the point written down. If it wasn’t opposite a school, there’d be infinitely less NIMBYism regarding it’s subject. If it wasn’t such a well-known brand, there’d be less opinion on it. If it wasn’t so meticulously painted (and repainted over) there’d be less argument over its historical validity.

        4 – Adding to it – like murals have been done since the year dot (as you know, cave paintings would be added to for periods spanning millenia)(as have books – see also: The Bible) – in this instance would – IMHO – add new historical relevance. Being able to deface a Coke billboard, with Coke having no legal recourse, using their proprietary logo? It’s so culturally relevant to this period in art history it hurts – see also: Banksy, Ron English, Shepard Fairey et al. IIRC – having Banksy deface the side of your house in the UK adds something like $50,000 to its value!

        But that again – is just a suggestion.

  43. What the hell is the city doing about all the graffiti and tagging? And don’t call that crap “Street art”, it’s vandalism.

    The Coca-Cola sign has been there for ages, is part of the community, and is a legible and aesthetically pleasing piece of commercial design.

    I suppose Chris Daly and/or all the “progressives” would rather have “X13″ scawled across the buildings in some nasty “script”? Or some beyond amateurish “mural” showing some savage ripping the heart out of a living virgin?

    • There is tagging and there is graffiti art, these are two distinct and separate things. However, they share the defining feature that THEY HAVE NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH THIS ISSUE.

      Thanks for playing.

      • Actually, the difference between “Graffiti” and “Art”, is PERMISSION.
        IF the Planning Department was as vigilant about graffiti, then they COULD fine every building owner who allows it to remain on their building – as non-permitted, ILLEGAL SIGNS. As it is in “violation”, they could be cited, and fined, and forced to remove the illegal “art”

      • Uh. No, actually, not at all. There is certainly plenty of art that has been done without permission, some of it actively criminal, in fact. Similarly, graffiti is not necessarily done WITHOUT permission.

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