SF’s Iconic Electric Coca-Cola Sign Is Being Removed Forever
The iconic Coca-Cola sign that has been towering over San Francisco’s Hwy 80, for over 80 years, is being removed this week. Permits were filed over the summer for the “REMOVAL OF EXISTING DOUBLE-FACED “COCA-COLA” GENERAL ADVERTISING DISPLAY & SUPPORT STRUCTURE”, and it’s deconstruction has already begun at the corner of 5th and Bryant Street.
Brokeassstart.com spoke with a representative of the sign’s maker at YESCO Bay Area, who confirmed that the sign is being removed permanently, when asked what would become of the sign, he said, “Coca-cola’s contract stipulates that it be destroyed after removal.”
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It is not clear why Coca-cola is removing its famous, neon billboard, one that has stood 112ft above San Francisco since 1937. Perhaps it’s because commuter traffic is down in the Bay Area by 20% due to the pandemic, or maybe it’s because of San Francisco’s very vocal, anti-soda stance and 2016 Soda Tax, which charged everyone an extra tax for buying sugary drinks. This tax raised millions of dollars over the last 4 years by the way, $1.65 million of those soda tax funds are currently being used to provide emergency food for people affected by COVID-19).
What is clear is that once removed, no billboard can replace it. The contract for the billboard space goes back over 80 years, and is custom, once it’s dissolved, it’s gone forever. The permitting text confirms that as written: “Voluntary removal of General Advertising Signs and associated sign structure at 701 Bryant Street. Per Section 604(h) of the Planning Code, once a GA Sign is voluntarily removed, it cannot be replaced. Issuance of permit terminates land use right to GA signs at this property.”
We don’t know what Coke is planning for the future, maybe its got a better plan to advertise to us in the Bay Area, after all, Coca-cola spent an average of $4 Billion dollars on advertising per year globally between 2016-2020. But replacing an ad that has embedded itself in the memories of generations of San Franciscans, starting at childhood, is basically impossible.
Coca-cola has a long history of advertising in the Bay Area. They were here literally advertising at the ground floor of the SF Civic Center in 1913. Here’s a shot of the construction at the corner of Larkin and Hayes in 1913, the spot that is now famously the Bill Graham Auditorium:
Coca-cola also had a bottling plant in SOMA starting in the 40’s, perhaps to serve all those thirsty sailors, soldiers and ship builders during WWII.
Bellow is the coca-cola sign above Interstate 80 in 1955. The photo is taken from Brannan near 6th. The view is to the north, over a construction site where the famous ‘California Flower Market’ used to be. You can also see political signs for ‘Christopher for Mayor,’ and ‘Ertola for Supervisor,’ and ‘Reilly for mayor’.
(George Christopher, a Greek immigrant, won the race, and served as SF Mayor until 1964.)
Even if you think that advertising is a form of pollution, for better or worse, it is a part of San Francisco history, and this particular sign was pretty special. Goodbye forever, you bold red, gold, and white symbol of American capitalism, you will be missed by some, and derided by others.