California has many legendary roads criss-crossing the state. From the fabled Route 66 to the infamous Sunset Strip, there is plenty of history along these stretches of blacktop. One of these is the Pacific Coast Highway (often abbreviated to PCH) also known as Highway One. It stretches nearly the entire length of the state, often running right along the coast, winding around cliffside beaches and butting right up against the stand. While many people tend to focus on the northern portion of the One, Patrick and I decided to spend a day on the last 67 miles, from Santa Monica to Dana Point, stopping to photograph vintage signs and an abandoned building or two.
Highways arrived after established streets and roads, working to connect cities and typically linking up with a town’s main drag. When this happens, sometimes a highway will take the name of an already established street, which is what the One does as it passes through Santa Monica, here addresses bear the name Lincoln Boulevard. Additionally, there are a handful of locations featured here that are not on directly on the One, but rather a block or so off, and they were simply too good to pass up.
Firestone 1817 Lincoln Boulevard, Santa Monica
Bill’s Liquor Store 2022 Lincoln Boulevard, Santa Monica
Abandoned Thomas Hamburgers 249 Lincoln Boulevard, Venice
Thomas Hamburgers opened in 1975, and I am going to guess that this is their original location. Sadly I couldn’t find anything on when what appears to be a fire that took place. However they do have another location in Marina Del Rey that I am putting on my list of places to check out.
Golden Star Motel 710 Rose Avenue, Venice
Fox Discount Department Store 620 Lincoln Boulevard, Venice
One trend I was thankful to see during our journey was repurposing. And the Fox Discount Department Store is one such example. Originally opening as a movie theatre in 1951 (according to Cinema Treasures) the Fox Theatre survived until 1987 (according to Los Angeles Theatres) and then became a discount mall. What is shocking is that some of the details inside have remained, we didn’t go inside but you can see photos in the Los Angeles Theatres link above. Soon the Fox will be given another new life which includes what appears to be restored neon on the tower. Now I just hope the details that have managed to survive inside over the last 70 years continue to do so, and I look forward to returning once it has reopened.
Former Cafe 50s/Future Cafe Gitane 838 Lincoln Boulevard, Venice
With a beautifully aging sign, this location was previously home to the nostalgia trip Cafe 50s, and will soon be home to Cafe Gitane, which appears to be a hipster nosh spot with locations in New York City, Brooklyn, and Tokyo.
This amazing neon saw may be one of my favorite neon signs I’ve spotted in the wild. While I doubt this hardware store is going anywhere soon, I do hope that the sign finds its way to the Museum of Neon Art eventually.
I’m continually thankful for businesses that recognize the art of neon, even examples as simple os this one reading “Printing.” Today this former print shop is home to General Store, an eclectic boutique offering a wide rage of goods.
Del Rey/Felipee’s Car Wash 4075 Lincoln Boulevard, Marina Del Rey
Brennan’s opened in 1972 but it became a ridiculous landmark in 1975 when it introduced turtle racing, and the turtles soon appeared in neon form on their massive sign out front. Sadly, they have been broken many times over.
While technically just off of the One, the sign for Melody Bar & Grill was too good to pass up. Plus, it’s a bit of an institution due to its proximity to LAX. Melody Bar & Grill opened in 1952 as your standard bar, later becoming a steak joint, and then a sports bar. It is currently undergoing renovation.
Century Marina Liquors 8526 Lincoln Boulevard, Los Angeles
CW Services/Industries Inc. 1735 Santa Fe Avenue, Long Beach
Much like the Lincoln Hardware saw, this welder is also up there with one of my favorite neons sign in the wild. The attention to detail is absolutely astounding! And I love the little “spark” attached to the pipe as if the welder is actually welding! Also, like the saw, I do hope this guy finds his way to the Museum of Neon Art one day.
The Bay Theatre originally opened as The Beach in 1945, and is said to have been Steven Spielberg’s favorite place to see foreign films when he was a college student in 1960s. It is currently undergoing restoration.
Pine Knot 6300 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach
Pine Knot Motel suffered a fire in April of 2018, and I sadly couldn’t find any information on its current status.
Dana Point Nursery 34100 Pacific Coast Highway, Dana Point
I hope you enjoyed this little jaunt down the One! I have several other stretches of blacktop and cities to cruise for signage as well as unique and abandoned buildings that we plan to visit in the future and share!
Now some of you may be asking, what is with neon? Why do I seek it out? Why isn’t it as common as it once was? Why are there so many broken and un-repaired neon signs? The simple answer: It’s expensive. Neon is hand made. Yes, every single piece of neon you have ever seen is made by hand, with the artist blowing into the glass and bending it. It is then filled with gas for illumination, which makes it rather finicky. This is why so many neon signs have gone dark and remains broken and why you don’t often see many new neon signs. So next time you’re out and about and spy some neon, take a moment to appreciate the skill and craftsmanship that went into every curve and bend! Want to keep the art of neon alive and try your hand at it? You can learn how to make it by taking a class at the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale.