Brands Are Not Your Neighbors…

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This morning I noticed that my four-year-old son had some cool new red sneakers. They had arrived via UPS from Zappos the previous day while I was at work. I said to him, “sweet shoes, where’d you get ‘em?” He responded in his matter-of-fact four-year-old way, “they came from the computer…” Interesting. Here is a small child growing up completely disconnected from the people who make and sell the stuff he uses. He thinks his Mama taps some computer keys, and his stuff miraculously appears. I’m certainly not old enough to have grown up with a bespectacled Gepetto cobbling our family’s shoes, but when I was my son’s age, the couple who owned Altier’s Shoes in Rochester were our neighbors. We’d run into them buying groceries at the Super Duper. We’d trick or treat at their house. They belonged to our neighborhood pool club (swimming pool, lest you get the wrong idea about the Altiers). Even if our coveted Addidas, Pumas and Converse All-Stars were manufactured in factories far away, every pair came with a connection to Mr. and Mrs. Altier. They wanted us to be happy with our shoes, because they where our neighbors. Our REAL human neighbors who we’d wave to when we saw them. Listen: I love Zappos and Amazon, because they make instantly getting what I want so effortless. But, if our connections to the names and faces of our communities of commerce are gone, I think something has been lost, because you cannot replace human relationships with faux branded ones and social media likes. Nike isn’t going to help you shovel your driveway after a snowstorm. Apple’s not going to pick your kids up from school if you’re running late from work.  I don’t think we understand the consequences of the loss of our local communities of commerce, because it has happened so quickly.

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More Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles

Here are 2 shots of the same wall taken ten years apart to the day. This entire blog could be about Beverly Boulevard between Western and Vermont in Los Angeles. These few urban blocks are incredibly rich with murals and signs. The visual landscape is constantly changing as fresh paint gives way to dirt, decay, and graffiti. When old art is repainted, the affect can be stunning as on this wall at the corner of Beverly and New Hampshire.

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Callahan Ranch Hotel: Callahan, California 2007

It’s an incredible, thrilling, twisty lonely 250 mile motorcycle ride on old Highway 3 from Ferndale on the Humbolt Coast to Yreka in Siskiyou County. Halfway between Weaverville and Yreka is the dying lumber, mining and ranching town of Callahan. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it. It’s not a ghost town yet because the little general store is still opened sometimes. Farrington’s Store (since 1860) was open, so I stopped for a soda and chatted with an old-timer who told some good stories. The Callahan Ranch Hotel was opened in 1854. He said it has been abandoned pretty much forever, although every once in a while somebody passing through says they want to buy it and fix it up, but “why the hell would anybody want to come and stay in a hotel in Callahan?” The dimensional lettering on the facade is remarkably well preserved considering the condition of the rest of the building. The dimensional lettering is really unusual: it’s painted with an above-looking-down perspective although the viewer sees the sign from below looking up. It’s a bit disorienting… kind of like the town itself.

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Sunset and Vine, Hollywood 2006

This was all torn down to build the W Hotel…

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Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles 2001

Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles between Western Ave and 1rst has always been a quirky living outdoor gallery of odd hand-painted signs. This stretch of Beverly was a center of Los Angeles nightlife during the thirties (so an old guy once told me), but the riots of the early 1990’s weren’t kind to the neighborhood. It’s been more than rough around the edges for as long as I’ve been passing through. Between 2000 and 2004 I had a second-floor walk-up studio above a store front-church and bodega that sold magic potions to ward off hexes, Virgin de Guadalupe statuettes, and international phone cards. Here’s a record of one early Sunday morning walk ten years ago. Most of these signs are gone now, but painted over with newer versions of the old themes.

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Tony Nik’s, San Francisco: Update

I received this comment on last year’s post on the Tony Nik’s sign in San Francisco

I have the answers to all your questions (at least the ones posed above).

Tony Nik was actually Antonio Nicco, my grandfather. When prohibition was repealed in 1933, he and my grandmother opened Tony Nicco’s Cafe. Previously, that was the site for Madame Nicco’s French Laundry.

The sign you see is the original sign. My grandfather ran the bar until 1950, when he sold it to longtime friend and fellow bartender Charles “Butch” Lavagnino. Butch changed the name to Tony Nik’s – hence the painting over the original “Nicco’s” (you can almost see it on close inpection) to change it to Nik’s.

Well, that’s it for Tony Nik’s for beginners. If you have other questions, please contact me. Thank you for your interest.

Mark Nicco.000061

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Dudley Avenue, Venice California


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El Sapo Studio Los Angeles

The Signpainter’s Art is Alive and Thriving.

Signpainter Carlos Aguilar began his career in art and lettering at the age of 13. Inspired daily by the art in Los Angeles, he began to recognize the beauty and unique style in signs and murals all over the city, and began to practice his craft in earnest. With over ten years in experience as owner of Sign Graf Custom Signs, Carlos has now opened El Sapo Studio, a collective of experienced sign artists who work to create the best custom sign work available. He specializes in custom type, hand lettering and graphics, modern and traditional designs.

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Portland, Oregon Food Trucks

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Highway 395 Near Bridgeport, CA

A recent trip up Highway 395 from Los Angeles to Yosemite didn’t yield too many sign discoveries. We where rushing a bit to cover as much ground as we could while the baby slept, and then spent most of the week three miles down in a canyon above Yosemite Falls. However, this incredible deconstructing sign deserved a stop. This was an experience of “Just Passing by. Intimately Unforgettable” a phrase coined by art critic David Pagel to describe the work of the artist Kirk Pederson. Pedersen is a friend and colleague who’s paintings, photographs, and books explore the intricate beauty of urban decay.
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