Looking Back: Signs of the Times
Signs, like buildings, get our attention. And over time they become landmarks, fixed in our minds and memories, helping us navigate an ever-changing world with some thread of familiarity and link to our past. I remember at two or three years of age, laying in the "back-back" of the family station wagon playing with my red Etch-A-Sketch. I recall looking out and seeing an enormous globe of the world atop a building, and knowing right where we were (in front of the Heald Business College on Santa Clara Street). There were many such signs that I'm sure many "old-timers" will readily recall: the San Jose Steel Sign off Highway 101 (read "NOEL" at Christmas), the Coppertone sunscreen billboard, the huge Chevrolet sign on Steven's Creek Boulevard near Town and Country Village (now Santana Row), just to name a few. The importance of these old landmarks have been recognized by others, such as the San Jose Signs Project, a campaign funded by the Preservation Action Council of San Jose. Inspired by their documentation of signs, I set about photographing a few myself. One thing I realized during this endeavor, is how many really great old signs we still have.
Image: Signs along Lincoln Avenue. Mr. T's Liquor Locker has been there as long as I can remember. Photos ©Ralph M. Pearce.
Image: Signs along San Carlos Street, from Bird Avenue down past Bascom Avenue. Photos ©Ralph M. Pearce.
Image: More colorful signs along San Carlos from Lincoln Avenue to Bascom. Photos ©Ralph M. Pearce.
Image: Signage along Bascom Avenue and then Winchester and Stevens Creek Boulevard. Photos ©Ralph M. Pearce.
Image: Bascom Avenue (shown here) and San Carlos Street seem to have an abundance of great old signs. Photos ©Ralph M. Pearce.
Image: Our historic McDonald's along Almaden Road, and what I believe is our only remaining Arby's in San Jose. Photos ©Ralph M. Pearce.
Image: Three of our more iconic signs. The first and last are currently the subjects of preservation efforts. Photos ©Ralph M. Pearce.
Image: San Jose Japantown also has some wonderful signs. At left is the restored Ken Ying Low sign (now reads Wenzhou). The center photo features Kaita Restaurant (formerly Ginza), and the former Shanghai Restaurant, which closed in 1971. The Wing's sign hasn't been on at night because of electrical issues, but the management kindly turned it on briefly so that I could take this shot. Photos ©Ralph M. Pearce.
Further Reading from the California Room:
- The San Jose Signs Project by the Preservation Action Council of San Jose
- Clipping File: Signs