58 signs, 20 years of work, 100 years of history, and too many interviews to count have gone into Alex Mebane’s new book “Signs of Santa Monica”. The book, which Mebane bills as a retrospect of outdoor artistry, tells the tales of Santa Monica’s local businesses and the people who ran them through the signs used to advertise them.
“It’s really a love letter to the city. More than anything it makes me appreciate the quality of life Santa Monica has to offer,” said Mebane. “Some of my friends who don’t live here were like ‘really it’s a book about signs?’ But when they read it they were like ‘yeah this goes way beyond the borders of Santa Monica’.”
Each of the 58 signs in the book shares the unique story behind the business, the property, and the lives of the people connected to it. True to Mebane’s word, the book takes readers far beyond Santa Monica to America’s first win at Wimbledon, Rudy Giuliani’s career, and the invention of Wienerschnitzel!
“Back in 1985 the City Council had passed the Sign Ordinance banning all pole signs, any rooftop signs, and any animated signs. It was aesthetics at the end of the day they were after. There had been over 1100 signs slated to be torn down that didn’t meet code,” said Mebane.
His book follows the history of many of the vintage signs that appealed to the City’s Meritorious Sign Committee for preservation. The City’s 1985 ordinance set a series of strict guidelines as to what signs were permitted and banned the use of animated and emitting signs. While the City passed this ordinance as a safety measure, Mebane argues that it was more a matter of people not deeming these signs attractive.
With the exception of an Arby’s sign, every sign in the book captures the story of a local business and how it contributed to the fabric of the community.
“A lot of these people were really plugged into the community. I’m reminded of the Santa Monica Fence Company and the guy who owned that. He was in the Civics Club and the Elks Clubs. He was all about giving back to the City just like the guys at Bob’s Market, they give so much money to all the schools here,” said Mebane.
When Mebane first came up with the idea for the book in 2004 he had no clue it would take him 16 years to complete his research, but each new sign revealed a new rabbit hole for him to fall down. Mebane spent countless hours in the Los Angeles County Deeds office in Norwalk, the archives in downtown Los Angeles, and looking at telephone books in the Santa Monica library.
Mebane moved to Santa Monica in 1998 and immediately fell in love with the City as he watched his two daughters grow up at Grant Elementary, John Adams Middle School, and Santa Monica High School.
“We moved here partly because it was a small town in a big town. I had moved here from the South and I like that I can walk pretty much anywhere I need to in Santa Monica and more than likely run into someone I know. In a town as big as Los Angeles that’s a unique thing,” said Mebane.
Proceeds from the book will be donated to three charities: Feeding America, Jewish Family Service LA, and World Central Kitchen. The book can be purchased online at https://signsofsantamonica.com/ and there is free delivery available to people living in Santa Monica.