San Francisco’s Iconic Coca-Cola Sign to Be Torn Down

The illuminated sign first went up in 1937 to wow drivers as they crossed the new Bay Bridge.

Preserving historical landmarks is an important way of connecting our past to our present. But what if an iconic part of a city’s history is just an advertisement for a soft drink? In San Francisco, they’ve decided it’s fine to tear it down.

The illuminated “Enjoy Coca-Cola” billboard in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood is slated to be permanently removed, according to multiple reports. The massive sign, which is 112 feet above the street below, was erected back in 1937, just a year after the opening of the Bay Bridge from which it can be prominently seen. For historical context, the Golden Gate Bridge also opened in 1937, so clearly the billboard—which has touted Coca-Cola for all of its 83 years—is part of an important era in Bay Area history.

San Francisco's Iconic Coca-Cola Sign To Be Taken Down
An aerial drone view of the Coca-Cola billboard in the South of Market Area on October 26, 2020 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan / Staff/Getty Images

That said, the current iteration of the sign isn’t the original: KPIX 5 News states the billboard has been replaced and upgraded several times, most recently in 2010 with LED lighting. And regardless, San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection confirmed yesterday that the sign is about to get a massive downgrade: A permit was issued to remove the billboard located at 701 Bryant Street at the corner of 5th Street, and the paperwork apparently stipulates that the sign cannot be replaced.

SF Gate reports that Coca-Cola will be paying the $100,000 price tag to remove the structure, which the company apparently deemed more cost effective than continuing to pay rent on the space. Scaffolding has already been spotted to handle the job.

“While we, like many San Franciscans, will miss seeing the sign, we made the difficult decision to not renew the lease as part of our efforts to focus on other digital media platforms that support the growth of our overall beverage portfolio,” a Coca-Cola North America spokeswoman wrote in a statement. “While the sign will not be visible, we remain committed to the San Francisco community through active support of many civic, cultural and charitable programs.”

Meanwhile, for those wondering how such an iconic sign can simply be destroyed, 3,000 miles away, precedent does exist for making an illuminated cola advertisement a landmark. In 2016, New York City granted protected status to the massive Pepsi-Cola sign located in Queens and easily visible across the East River in Manhattan. “Its prominent siting and its frequent appearances in pop culture have made it one of the most endearing and recognizable icons on the Queens waterfront,” the Landmark Preservation Commission chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan said at the time according to the New York Times. Built in 1940, New York’s Pepsi sign is actually younger than San Francisco’s Coke sign.

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