The Vintage Neon and More of Highway One: From Santa Monica to Dana Point

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.

A red bow tie shape is outlined in white, within the red in white gothic letters reads "Firestone" in neon.

Firestone 1817 Lincoln Boulevard, Santa Monica

Black and white photo. A small neon sign reads "Whites and Liquors" in a curving script. Below in backlit plastic reads "Bill's Liquor"

Bill’s Liquor Store 2022 Lincoln Boulevard, Santa Monica

The charred remains of Thomas Hamburgers, originally painted white with a red roof and red trim, not is covered in graffiti, with broken signage on the roof.

The broken backlit plastic sign of Thomas Hamburgers, which is now just a yellow frame with broken bits of red.

A broken out light fixture in the old lantern style, hands one lone shoe.

Black and white photo of a crow on a railing, graffiti is visible behind it.

Under the awning, scorch marks visible under the roof, and around the window. The ground is littered with trash and debris from the building.

Flaking yellow paint reads "Thomas Hamburgers" on a red roof.

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.

The Golden Star Motel, a cluster of white buildings with blue trim. "MOTEL" is painted on the side of one. The office is a curved deco style building and features a small "No Vacancy" neon.

Close-up of the "No Vacancy" neon above the office window.

Close-up of a pass thru counter which features four floral tiles above.

Black and white photo of the office, which walks the line of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne in style with curved corners.

A small white sign pokes into a blue sky, the white sign reads 'MOTEL" in blue letters and features a gold painted star on top.

Golden Star Motel 710 Rose Avenue, Venice

A massive turquoise building features a tall spire at the top reads "FOX" in white letters. Across the front is a faded backlit plastic marquee reading "Fox Discount Department Store" the "O" of "Fox" features the face of a red fox. Below the marquee is a tattered red fabric sign advertising embroidery services.

On the side of the Fox Discount Department Store is a red faded sign listing the variety of items available within, "Accessories, Beauty Supplies, Cell Products & Pagers, Children's Clothing, Color Digital Transfer, Electronics, Embroidery, Fresh Produce, Hosiery, Luggages, Men's & Women's Clothing, Music & CDs, Nail Shop, Plants, Dress Shoes, Tennis Shoes, Snack Shop, Sports Wear, Toys, Watches"

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.

Black and white photo of an hourglass like shape with a white backlit plastic section across the middle which reads "Cafe Gitane" above the plastic reads "breakfast" and below it "Lunch Dinner" all in neon.

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.

A part backlit plastic, part neon sign reads "DU Architects Wellness"

DU Architects 812 Lincoln Boulevard, Venice

DU Architects is another example of repurposing, choosing to keep part of the building’s sign original, while still advertising their own business.

A neon sign in the shape of a saw reads "Lincoln Hardware"

Three backlit plastic signs read "Tru-Test Quality Products," "Lincoln Hardware," and "True Value Hardware."

Lincoln Hardware 1609 Lincoln Boulevard, Venice

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.

A simple neon sign hangs from a building and reads "Printing"

“Printing” at General Store, 1801 Lincoln Boulevard, Venice

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.

A blue backlit plastic sign reads "Del Rey" in small letters across the top, and in large 3D style letters of orange reads "CAR WASH"

Del Rey/Felipee’s Car Wash 4075 Lincoln Boulevard, Marina Del Rey

A large backlit plastic sign reads "Brennan's" and below six green turtles.

Broken bits of neon hang from a green backlit plastic turtle

Brennan’s 4089 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.

A faded sign features a jumble of words, but "Bar & Grill," "Food" and "Cocktails" are visible.

Melody Bar & Grill 9132 S. Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles

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.

A large white building reads "Liquor," "Flowers," and "Cocktails" in neon.

A large blue sign reads "LIQUOR" in large yellow letters down it.

Century Marina Liquors 8526 Lincoln Boulevard, Los Angeles

A small black sign reads "Cocktails" in red neon.

Hermosa Saloon 211 Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach

A yellow building features a yellow and white sign next to it reading "Nick's Liquor Parking Cigars" and features a small arrow.

Nick’s Liquor 510 Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach

The Driftwood Motel, a mid-century modern building painted white with blue trim, and features a blue and white sign reading "Driftwood" in red script neon and "Motel" in white letters, painted also on the sign reads "Snack Kitchens, HBO, Pool, Welcome" and also features a small "No Vacancy" neon.

A blue and white sign reading "Driftwood" in red script neon and "Motel" in white letters, painted also on the sign reads "Snack Kitchens, HBO, Pool, Welcome" and also features a small "No Vacancy" neon.

Driftwood Motel 3960 Pacific Coast Highway, Torrance

A mustard yellow building features a corner door with golden brown rocks down the side. Coming up from the building is a backlit plastic sign reading "Liquor Deli Parking" and features a neon arrow.

Bill’s Liquor Store 1544 CA-1, Harbor City

Behind a chainlink fence sits a boarded up building, painted white with blue trim, and covered in graffiti.

Abandoned Fosters Freeze 603 CA-1, Wilmington

I love the simple lines of Foster Freeze locations, and while this one may be abandoned, there are still many more throughout California.

Close-up of the CW welder, dressed in blue coveralls, welding a pipe, all trimmed in neon. A small neon spark shape is on the pipe.

A large white sin reads "C.W. Service Shop Field Services Equipment Repair Custom Fabrication Since 1945" and atop it features a man in coveralls welding a pipe, all made of neon.

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.

Don's Motel, a mid-century modern building in golden yellow with blue trim. The sign painted red and white reads "Don's Motel Weekly Economic Rates Wireless Internet"

Don’s Motel 4915 CA-1, Long Beach

A simple yet elegant cinema facade in the Streamline Modern style. Large letters read "Bay Theatre" across the top, as well as across a marquee above the door. On the marquee reads "May your hopes always outweigh your doubts" Todd Snider

Bay Theatre 340 Main Street, Seal Beach

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.

A white backlit plastic sign reads "Pine Knot Motel" in green and red letters.

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.

A green neon sign reads "Dana Point Nursery Since 1947" and also features a clock.

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.

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