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Professional picker Bryan Gerston poses with his Lick Pier sign that he purchased for $500. He wants to sell it. (photo by Brian Applegate)

DOWNTOWN — As a professional picker with over 35 years of experience digging through what some may consider junk, Bryan Gerston knew he had something special when he stumbled upon a yard sale in the San Fernando Valley last week.

Amongst other odds and ends, he saw a 40-foot-long sign made of galvanized metal with fading red paint. He could make out only one word from the street — “Pier.”

“I jumped out of my truck as fast as I could,” he said Monday. “I knew it was something good.”

That something turned out to be an antique sign for a bath house at the former Lick Pier that once stood near the border of Santa Monica and Venice during the 1920s, a period of extreme migration to Southern California. It was one of several pleasures piers that popped up along the Santa Monica Bay boasting ballrooms, roller coasters, games and other attractions for the thousands that flocked to the sand and surf looking for a little relaxation.

The Lick Pier was built in 1922 by Charles Lick and two other investors to a tune of $250,000. It would be 800 feet long and 225 feet wide, according to historian Jeffrey Stanton. The pier was home to the Bon Ton Ballroom and the Zip roller coaster before it was destroyed by fire two years later.

The sign had been sitting in a barn in Chatsworth, Calif. and was used to separate livestock or horses, Gerston said. He purchased it for $500 from an elderly woman who used to own an antiques store on Sherman Way. He plans to sell it, as that’s how he makes his money.

“It’s so historical,” he said. “I just can’t believe it — still the original paint job.”

Gerston is hoping to bring in $10,000. Just make him an offer.

The sign comes in four, 10-foot sections and just may be the same sign captured in a photograph in Fred E. Basten’s book, “Paradise By The Sea,” which documents the history of Santa Monica’s beach culture using old pictures. In one photo of the Lick Pier, one can see a large sign like Gerston’s hanging near a staircase leading up to the Bon Ton Ballroom.

Gerston fell in love with vintage signs thanks to his grandfather, who owned a butcher shop in downtown Los Angeles called Oscar’s. Inside the shop his grandfather hung old photos and antique weapons from the civil war and before. Every birthday, Gerston said his grandfather would give him a sword or a gun as a present. He’s been picking every since.

“It’s in my blood.”

Gerston considers himself a technophobe and even calls himself “Caveman” for his inability to use a computer. So if you’re interested in bidding on the Lick Pier sign, you’ll have to call him at (805) 701-4338.

kevinh@smdp.com

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