Coke Sign neon replaced with high fructose corn syrup.

They've killed the Coke sign! This is a tragedy! A travesty. A tragavesty.

Now normally I have a visceral, knee-jerk allergy to advertising in pretty much any form (and I don't even drink Coke, see sidebar), but I have to admit that I have some love for that Coke sign.

It was so old and janky and never worked right! Half of the lights seemed to run on Lucas three-position switch technology (off, dim and flicker) and it was a different half almost every night. I have long had this fantasy that the reason the sign always looked like that is that there is only one guy left in the world who knows how to fix the mechanical relays that drive its pattern logic, and that guy is 95 and has trouble getting up and down the ladder to sweep the birdshit out of the contacts with his vintage Nineteenth-century wire brush.

That's how it is in my head, anyway. If the reality is not actually like that, then I don't want to know.

But anyway, replacing it with a slick, modern LED facimile? Feh! I shake an angry fist.

"Energy Efficient" LED Sign to Be Unveiled in Late December.

The Coca-Cola Company announced today plans to replace the historic neon sign in San Francisco`s South of Market district. Coca-Cola has maintained a display alongside the southbound lanes on the I-80 freeway heading in to downtown San Francisco for more than 75 years. In its place will be a state-of-the-art LED display that is consistent in size and brightness with the existing sign but 80% more energy efficient and is to be powered by 100% sustainable and certified "green" energy. [...]

To begin preparations for installation, power will be shut off to the existing display starting today. Skilled display and lighting workers will begin carefully dismantling and removing the display faces. By December 11, it will be completely disassembled and the installation of the replacement faces will begin. [...] Coca-Cola also plans a `flip-the-switch` ceremony to celebrate relighting the new sign. More details will be forthcoming.

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17 Responses:

  1. azul_ros says:

    The story link doesn't work for me. Page Not Found. :/
    Not that it matters. I don't live there & don't know what the original sign looks like.

  2. rane500 says:

    I can empathize although on a much, much smaller scale. Here in Cobb County we have what is known as "The Big Chicken." It stopped working not long after it was built in the 60s and they left it that way until it was damaged in 93. When they fixed the damage they went a step further and modernized it. For some reason it just doesn't look quite right brightly painted with the moving eyes and mouth.

  3. Dennis says:

    Years ago, the Budweiser brewery in Houston had a big flying animated neon eagle that rotated on top of one of the buildings.

  4. ultranurd says:

    While there was a lot of uproar when the refurb happened, Boston seems to be generally happy with the LEDified CITGO sign by Fenway. I think people would have been more upset if not updating it meant it would have to be left turned off.

    • jered says:

      I'm not thrilled with our LED CITGO. The color purity makes it look like a special effect. And it, like the neon device before, is just as constantly broken, but in far less aesthetically pleasing ways (bars out or the wrong color).

  5. dasht says:

    Remember the Westinghouse sign? Now *there* was a sign....

  6. fantasygoat says:

    The War on Style continues it would seem. God forbid anything have any character.

    • 205guy says:

      or use electricity. Plus, if they don't refurbish it now, what are they going to bitch about in 75 years when it needs changing again.

      On a semi-related note: there's a sign for a car dealership on El Camino in San Bruno where the plastic fell off (permanently it seems) and the grid of bulbs (incandescent) is left behind, still lit every night except for the ones that went out. But I swear it's a different pattern of bulbs that are out each time I see it. My theory is that it's how the spies communicate with their home base--though you think they'd use something visible by satellite. I suppose the KGB, with their sense of humor, are using the Coca-Cola sign.

  7. There's a similar, if less prominent, sign in Seattle just on the north side of the Ballard Bridge. It's supposed to read


    …but it took years before I saw all the letters on at the same time. The particularly fascinating thing is that the arrangement of operational letters changed on what seemed to be a daily basis: MILL AINT, then MIL E P INT, and so on. My all time favorite: ILLER PAIN.

    Normally I wouldn't gum up the works here with this kind of personal narrative but for the similar fascination I have with that sign: don't they know the thing is on the fritz? Does the management show up every day and slap their collective hands to their foreheads and collectively exclaim, "Oh for the love of fuck" before heading into some dark back room to tinker with the ancient, crumbling connections and janky power supply and baffling control interface, hoping this time it works? Are they on a first-name basis with the neon repair guy? Does he attend their annual company picnic?

    A few weeks ago, I drove by the sign and it was working, all of it. This kind of broke my heart, really. I like my monuments to entropy.

    • andr00 says:

      Oh yeah, that one needed to be documented.

      But we ALSO have that ridiculously big Pepsi sign, which seems more similiar to the Coke sign landmark. In my youth, visiting Seattle, I was lost downtown and walked to where that sign was, expecting that Pepsi beverages would be available near such a huge brand presence. (No)

  8. kyronfive says:

    What?????? No more coke sign?


  9. mattyj2001 says:

    So where are those assholes who sue you and everyone within a mile radius of your house if you try to paint a 75 year old garage door? You know, the ones that basically chased a world-class art museum out of the Presidio in favor of keeping a 100 year old piece of shit bowling alley that nobody uses.

    The first time my wife and I drove into this city that sign is what we saw. Every time we have drive by since one of us says 'Hmmm. I could sure use a Coke. Maybe a diet coke.' I realize that some form of Coke sign will still be there but the current sign has some serious character. I'll miss it.