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Signage Debate As Old as the City

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, March 25, 2009, at 11:55PM
Signage at 11th and Broadway California Historical Society / USC Digital Archives [digarc.usc.edu]

Ads for homes by the Los Angeles Investment Company, Studebaker cars and Western Auto Supply dominate the view down Broadway in this 1920s photo.

On Thursday morning the City Planning Commission will again debate a rewrite of L.A.'s signage codes, a task the body's been chewing on for the last two months.

As it does so, it's worth taking a brief look back. Signage, and the debate over how it should be regulated, is no modern invention. The streets of Downtown in the early half of the 1900's were even more filled with ads than they are today.

Historic photos of Downtown are chock full of the sort of rooftop signs seen here, in a photo of the buildings at 11th and Broadway. Tunnel mouths and highly visible intersections were ground zero for advertising Budweiser and autos.

As for the signage ordinance, consider this from the February 12, 1898, edition of the L.A. Times:

Jud Rush, attorney for the Los Angeles Bill Posting Company, appeared before the Board of Public Works yesterday to protest against petitions filed by the Wilshire Bill Posting Company. According to the attorney's statement, the Wilshire Company has constantly and with impunity violated the ordinance regulating the height and location of billboards. A rigid observance of the ordinance has been exacted of the rival company. Mr. Rush insisted that the ordinance if enforced at all, should be enforced impartially against both companies.

The matter was taken under advisement.

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