The Bekins Storage Co. Roof Sign is locally significant for its associations with the historic context, “Influences of the Automobile on Other Businesses (1924-1944),” under Criterion A in the area of Commercial Advertising and Criterion C in the area of Commercial Signage as a locally significant example of early large roof signs and projecting signs in Pasadena and of commercial signage primarily meant to be read from the passing automobile. The Bekins roof sign, with sign faces approximately 32 feet long and 12 feet high, was constructed as a bulb-lit sign in 1926 and converted to neon in 1929; it retains its 1929 appearance. The two-sided sign was strategically positioned atop the four-story Bekins Storage Co. Building — some 60 feet above the ground and mounted perpendicular to the street — to be visible in both directions for several blocks along South Fair Oaks Avenue, originally part of historic Route 66 (1926-1940; the route changed in 1940 with the opening of the Arroyo Seco Parkway) and a major transportation corridor in the city and the surrounding area up to the present day.

The Bekins roof sign is the best-remaining example of the many large roof signs and projecting signs constructed in Pasadena prior to World War II: it is one of the oldest-surviving roof signs, a once common form of commercial advertising meant to be viewed at a distance and which took on added significance with the introduction of the automobile; it is one of the oldest-remaining examples and earliest large-scale uses of neon, whose introduction in the 1920s revolutionized commercial signage; and it is the most distinctive of the remaining pre-war roof signs — in terms of design, size, location/visibility, and use of neon — in the city.

Coinciding with the advent of the streetcar system in Pasadena in the 1890s and followed closely by the introduction of the automobile in the Los Angeles area in 1897, the orientation of commercial signage changed and signs became a more significant part of the local landscape in the first decades of the twentieth century. Large illuminated roof-top signs and projecting signs had an early association with theaters, movie palaces, and department stores, all dependent on attracting large crowds, but the use of large illuminated signs became more practical and widespread with turn-of-the-century advancements in electrification and illumination — and necessary when commercial establishments could no longer rely solely on foot traffic for business by virtue of the increased mobility of customers and the increased business competition it permitted. With the considerable growth of the southern California region during the subsequent decades, the interrelated ascension of the automobile as the chief mode of transportation, and the introduction of neon in Los Angeles in 1923, the 1920s-1930s was a tremendously prolific period for commercial signage in Pasadena and the greater Los Angeles area.

More and more signs were designed to be visible from greater distances, and at greater speeds, and to incorporate illumination, animation and special effects, novelty, color, and other features which could catch the eye and draw the attention of passers-by. Large wall signs were painted directly on the sides of buildings. Signs became larger in size, with bigger lettering, and were placed in more highly prominent locations, such as on rooftops or mounted on the sides of buildings. Signs were illuminated to increase their visibility and appeal to streetcar and automobile passengers alike. Large signs and billboards appeared adjacent major transportation routes and the emerging highway system. Signage became an important component in commercial buildings and, in the extreme cases, the integration of architecture and signage became indistinguishable, as with programmatic or socalled “Roadside” architecture. Most significant in the design and illumination of signs was the use of neon, which completely transformed commercial advertising in the myriad of design possibilities it presented.

Neon was introduced in the United States in 1923 by a Los Angeles Packard dealer, who purchased two neon signs in Paris which virtually “stopped traffic in downtown Los Angeles. The police complained that the neon was causing a traffic jam and neon took California by storm.” Frenchman Georges Claude was the early leader in the use of neon and argon gas, having pioneered its development with key inventions in the commercial fractional distillation of neon in 1907 and the development of a corrosion-resistant electrode, patented in 1915. Claude granted a territorial franchise in Los Angeles in 1924. Neon offered many advantages in comparison to earlier light sources; with its flexible luminosity, limitless configurations, and range of color combinations, neon soon became the primary method of illumination for commercial signage. The use of neon in the United States, like the automobile, was closely associated with the economic, technological, and cultural shifts of the 1920s and 1930s—a period of popular consumerism and “Machine Age modernism”—apparent also in the rise of industrial design and the emergence of the Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, and International styles.

By the 1920s and 1930s, large roof signs and projecting signs were a common form of commercial advertising for theaters, department stores, banks, and other larger business establishments in Pasadena, including Jensen’s Raymond Theater (c.1921), Clune’s Pasadena Theater (c.1920), the Washington Theater (1925), Security National Bank (c. 1920s), Sears Roebucks (c. 1920s), Bekins Storage Co. (1926), and the Pasadena Star-News (c. 1926-1930s). Most of the early signs were bulb-lit signs, but by the late 1920s many incorporated neon. Some roof signs, like the Bekins sign, were bulb-lit signs converted to neon. Most large roof signs and projecting signs were located on or oriented toward the city’s major thoroughfares, with the largest signs meant to be visible from Colorado Boulevard even if the signs were located several blocks away. With the established of the National Old Trails Route in 1913 and the designation in 1926 of Colorado Boulevard and South Fair Oaks Avenue as part of Route 66, signage oriented toward these streets was meant not only for local and seasonal consumption, but for the many newcomers traveling the route as well.

The Bekins Storage Co. roof sign is the only surviving example of the large roof signs and projecting signs from the pre-war period constructed in Pasadena. Other large signs have been removed, the result of seismic concerns, failed businesses, or replacement with more contemporary signage. The City’s zoning code no longer allows roof signs and some projecting signs, and a non-conforming sign abatement program in the 1970s-1980s required the removal of many of the remaining early signs. [The city created a Historic Sign Inventory, which includes the Bekins roof sign, in the late 1980s which exempts historic pre-1960 signs from the current code requirements. Most of the signs in the inventory are from the post war period.] A few small roof and projecting signs also remain from the period, but none of the relative size, distinctive period design, use of neon, or prominence of location as the Bekins roof sign. The Bekins sign sits atop the Bekins Storage Co. Building, a non-contributor.