LINCOLN BLVD — A long-time anchor of Lincoln Boulevard will transform in coming months, removing approximately four decades of continuity and one iconic sign.
The Arby’s restaurant on the 1300 block of Lincoln Boulevard is known for its deli-style roast beef sandwiches and the large, free-standing pole sign bearing a 10-gallon cowboy hat lit up in rosy pink.
Neither will remain after the restaurant transitions to a Wendy’s fast food establishment, complete with a new interior, exterior and, of course, the classic Wendy’s image of the red pig-tailed girl.
Beyond its unmistakable appearance, the Arby’s sign holds the distinction of being one of the few free-standing signs left in Santa Monica after the City Council in 1985 passed an amendment to the municipal code to ban “excessive and confusing” sign displays in an attempt improve the look of Santa Monica for visitors.
The code took aim at free-standing, roof, upper level, projecting and off-premises, including those signs which were previously animated or lit. It created a Santa Monica which Dennis Hathaway, of the Los Angeles Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, called “a different kind of place with a different kind of thinking and a different kind of atmosphere.”
Owners were given 15 years to get their signs into conformance with the new policy, said Laura Beck, a city planner and liaison to the Architectural Review Board.
“In 2000, we had a big effort to get all of the non-conforming signs into conformance,” Beck said.
Fifty-five appellants flooded the March 22, 2000 City Council meeting in an attempt to get their sign exempted from the ban before the deadline on April 11.
The crowd was so big that city staff changed the number of minutes each had to speak from the usual 10 to three, and the meeting still stretched past 12:55 a.m., when one council member was noted as leaving in the minutes of the meeting.
It was a night Councilmember Kevin McKeown remembers all too well.
Council members made 39 individual motions that were put to voice vote. Twenty-one were approved and another 18 were denied. The remainder went down in a summary motion.
The process had several successes, but some continue to perplex McKeown, like the Arby’s sign.
“There were some local business icons I’m glad we saved, like the Engler Brothers’ neon piston on Pico. We allowed some rebranding, like the Penguin sign on Lincoln which had been Santa Monica’s early air-conditioned coffee shop, the Penguin Café,” McKeown wrote in an e-mail.
The Arby’s sign, however, was one of the dropped balls.
“The Arby’s sign somehow squeaked through in 2000, but it’s just corporate chain kitsch without local significance, and few would lament its loss,” McKeown wrote.
Notwithstanding, the sign received a meritorious designation under the sign code, which allowed it to remain despite the blanket ban on signs of its type.
That designation, however, doesn’t grant the sign special protection, as would a landmark status. When Wendy’s architect PM Design Group gets the go-ahead to remodel the site, the fate of the sign will rest in the hands of the owner.
City staff added a request to the owner to make some attempt to preserve the sign, possibly by donating it to a museum.
“We want to let the public know that staff is not oblivious,” Beck said. “We’re aware that someone may love the sign.”
The Wendy’s company owns 18.5 percent of Arby’s after a deal was struck with the Roark Capital Group in July to sell off the weaker company, according to the Associated Press.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.