LINCOLN BOULEVARD — Love makes you do crazy things sometimes, like transport a 16-foot, neon-lit fast food sign 2,000 miles across country.
That, however, is the likely fate of the Arby’s Roast Beef sign on Lincoln Boulevard after the restaurant converts to a Wendy’s in coming months.
Quick work by Wendy’s and Arby’s representatives resulted in a deal whereby the hamburger chain promised to move the 1,000-gallon hat from its current home on the 1300 block of Lincoln Boulevard to a museum for preservation.
The likely destination: The American Sign Museum in Cincinnati.
The intervention prevented a potential action by the Landmarks Commission, which had agendized the sign to consider assigning it landmark status, which would have protected the colossal hat in place.
Promising the sign to another entity for preservation was an elegant solution, said Commissioner Ruthann Lehrer.
“It’s the ideal scenario,” she said. “There’s an awareness that the sign had special value, and the private sector took care of it and we don’t need to be involved. That’s terrific!”
Days before the commission hearing, Tod Swormstedt, president and founder of the sign museum, expressed interest in displaying the sign.
“We’d throw our hat into the ring,” Swormstedt said, although taking in the sign could be difficult because of the cost of transporting it.
In its agreement, Wendy’s promised to pay the entire cost of trucking the large hat to the Midwest.
While the company was happy to help preserve the sign, keeping it on site would be inopportune for the incoming Wendy’s, said Mike Dampf, a company representative.
“Wendy’s wants to be there, but we’d rather operate with just our signage,” Dampf said.
It wouldn’t be the first time a new business has moved in despite an existing sign. First Republic Bank sits underneath the old Zucky’s diner logo on Wilshire Boulevard at Fifth Street.
They occasionally get passersby looking for food, commissioners joked.
The Arby’s sign is a rare bird in Santa Monica, one of the few free-standing, neon signs left after a 1985 change in the sign ordinance outlawed such glitz and required existing signage to come into conformance by 2000.
Despite its connection to thin-sliced beef sandwich with “horsey” sauce, the sign attained a special designation within the code that allowed it to continue in perpetuity.
The “meritorious” designation did not give the sign any protections against a change in ownership, however.
That would have been heartbreaking for many Arby’s franchisees who still quest after the elusive signs, said Joseph Peskin, owner of Peskin Signs.
Peskin Signs began making the signs in 1964, and despite the proliferation of Arby’s across the nation, there aren’t very many left, Peskin said.
“We’d go to Arby’s conventions, and 30 to 40-year franchisees would say, ‘I still have one or two. I wish I had more,’” Peskin said. “Within the Arby’s family, those signs are beloved.”
The feeling persists outside of the family too, Swormstedt said.
“Why the hat? It’s roast beef and happy trails to you, until we meet again,” he said.
Even in Santa Monica, where large signage has gone the way of the dinosaurs, nostalgia for the simple days of Arby’s lives.
“Good luck to Wendy’s,” said Commissioner Barbara Kaplan. “I wish Wendy’s had a hat.”