Thursday, March 24, 2011

(Street) Signs Of The Times

Have you noticed the new Los Angeles City street signs lately? The Militant has!

You can find them along the 1st Street corridor in Downtown Los Angeles, in the Civic Center and Little Tokyo areas. The aluminum signs are slightly larger than the current city street signage and have "wings" on the top and bottom, displaying the City Seal on the top wing and the block number and direction on the bottom wing.

These signs aren't all that new; they were first spotted in June of 2009, like the Main Street sign pictured above left. You would have expected The Militant to do a post on the signs back then, but he was too lazy-ass to do it. wasn't sure whether it was some sort of "pilot project" (as the City is prone to doing) or whether this particular signage style was supposed to be unique to the Civic Center. Some more information was needed.

This week, though, The Militant noticed more of these signs popping up - this time outside the Civic Center, like this sign (pictured right) on 1st and Alameda.

When he first saw the signs nearly two years ago, he thought they were kind of strange, mainly because of their UFO/Chevrolet logo shape, but admittedly, they have grown on him. They're large, and have larger lettering, which means they are more visible to motorists and pedestrians (and cyclists, too, of course) alike. Second, they are the first Los Angeles street signage to acknowledge the City of Los Angeles outright. Very important in this region of nearly 90 suburbs, satellite cities and unincorporated areas, of which street signage is the one of two tell-tale ways to know exactly which city you are in (calling 9-1-1 and seeing which police department shows up is the other, but The Militant doesn't recommend you do that...).

The street signs are the first new signs to pop up on Los Angeles streets in some 25 years, and are now the 5th commonly-found street sign type in town. It would be awesome if our City's street signs were all eventually uniformly updated to this one (though with the City budget ish, keep dreamin'...of course, the City can probably make some sweet revenue selling the old street signs for $50-$100 a pop, but you know an idea like that won't go nowhere in the City's bureaucracy...). Here's a little historical primer of Los Angeles street signs from the past several decades:

The "Shotgun" Sign (made 1946-1962) - Supposedly called because of the resemblance of the sign's shape to a shotgun, these signs are the oldest common street signs found in Los Angeles (though older ones still exist in various spots). These porcelain signs feature two faces and a hollow center. They are black with white upper-case block lettering, and the street type and direction contain a period at the end of the abbreviation. Though over 60 years old, these signs are the second most-commonly found street sign type in the City.

The "Black Blade" Sign (1967-1973) - These signs were made of aluminum and came in two pieces: The larger one with the street name and type, and a smaller one below with the block number and direction. Note the lack of the period at the end of the abbreviation. Also, these signs are supposedly the first street signs in America to feature lower-case letters. The lettering and border trim are made of reflective material for better visibility at night. BTW, Royalton Place is up in the hills near Coldwater Canyon Drive.

The "Blue Blade" Sign - (1973-1985) Here we have the world's most famous intersection showing off two examples of this sign, which is generally an update of the Black Blade sign. Also made of aluminum, this sign is made on a blue reflective background. Many of these signs are still visible on the City's streets today. Interestingly, unincorporated Los Angeles County streets use a nearly-identical sign type, (with a slightly lighter shade of blue) for their streets.

The "Trapezoid" Sign - (1985-Present) Unlike the previous two designs, this sign features the street name, type, block number and direction on the same piece. Made of porcelain-coated steel (with a thin hollow center), this particular sign type started appearing in 1985 and is the current and most commonly-found street sign used in Los Angeles. The angled outside edge of the sign gives it a trapezoidal shape.

Of course, this primer only covers the standard street signs placed on street corners and not the larger motorist-oriented boulevard signs that hang from traffic lights. That would be another post for another day. But you might want to check out this experimental LED boulevard sign in Downtown that the city sprang $3,000 for (the regular ones only cost $70)! But now you know all about Los Angeles' street sign types (dare The Militant say, you're now, "Street Smart?"), and you will surely now become The Life of the Party* with your newly-gained militant knowledge!

* You know The Militant is!

35 comments:

Tammy Dawson said...

Wow that's a whopping price in street sign investment! But what's the big difference in using LED signs to ordinary reflective signage? I guess they appear clearer at night. But just imagine how much it would cost to put up an LED sign on every street corner.

Steve Devol said...

Thanks! Very interesting primer. What's your research source on the street sign history?

CaHwyGuy - Daniel the California Highway Guy said...

I wouldn't be surprised is the FHWA is behind the new signs. I recall a change came out this year requiring mixed case (that really affects NYC), which probably led to an impetus to replace the oldest type of signs.

F Ron Miller said...

Its also worth noting that the shotgun signs are often used by small birds as houses.

Sean Yoda Rouse said...

Excellent post. Make me alomst wonder if the Militant may or may not be LA City Nerd.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I did some research on this. This is a federal requirement and none of L.A.'s current street signs (other than the brand new ones) fit the bill. So over the next 5 years the city will be replacing *every* (or, supposedly, every) street sign in the city with the new Chevrolet-logo-shaped signs, with smaller versions (with no City logo) on side streets.

I'll miss the shotgun signs the most! And the City won't put them up for sale, either. They'll be recycled for scrap.

Anonymous said...

The "Shotgun" signs are the best, and should be preserved. The new ones are the worst. It is sad that the government wastes our money changing signs like this. Just keep what we had, and preserve our history and heritage.

HollywoodF1 said...

There are some that have a really old font on them (that I presume to be from the '20s) esp. in Hollywood and the southern SFV. What's their story?

Nick said...

Anonymous here (no reason to be anonymous, just clicked the wrong button).

Would anyone be willing to petition the City -- or even the FHWA -- to "Save the Shotguns"? No reason to junk history because the Federal government feels aging baby boomers can't read in all caps.

Nick said...

I'm anonymous #1, to be clear :-)

Anonymous said...

what about the oddly unique street signs on Wilshire and Western. They have a different font than any of the other signs in the area, and the only other intersection (that I've seen) with this font is Wester and Olympic. Does anyone have any idea as to what this is about?

Militant Angeleno said...

HollywoodF1: The Militant found scant info on the sign generation before the "Shotgun" types - They were black rectangular signs with white upper-case lettering that did not contain the block number or direction. Apparently they started popping up circa 1922 or 1926. It was the first non-wooden Los Angeles street sign!

A couple examples appear in the City, but they're way too rare to be considered common.

John J. Flynn, Ph.D. said...

Great post: reminds me of the time I was shopping for a house way back when around Culver City...the agent told us "You know you're in Culver City when the street signs are green." It'd be interesting to have a visual dictionary of all the city street signs around LA County!

Militant Angeleno said...

John J. Flynn, Ph.D.: A demanding proposition, but the Militant will put it on his to-do list! But you're going to have to settle on just Los Angeles County burgs!

Militant Angeleno said...

Sean Yoda Rouse: One anonymous persona is more than enough for a person to handle!

Anonymous said...

"(calling 9-1-1 and seeing which police department shows up is the other, but The Militant doesn't recommend you do that...)."

Actually, with the cell phone network as it is, this is not always going to work, you may spend some valuable time talking to CHP in order to get your call to the right agency. Which is why keeping the old regular 7- (or 10-) digit phone numbers on your cell for your local PD and FD is a good idea.

Militant Angeleno said...

Anonymous: Dude, do you like show up backstage at comedy clubs and deconstruct standup comics' jokes in the same fashion? Just sayin.

Chris Barrus said...

I love that the intersection of 4th & Orange has three different types of signs on the corner.

Bob said...

I really like the old shotguns ones and hate seeing them disappear. You said they were white letters on black, but to me they look more like white on navy. At any rate, I noticed that they were all the same size so that the lettering was stretched or squeezed based on the street name's length. My favorites were the ones on San Fernando Mission Blvd. Those required quite a squeeze and were not too legible from any significant distance.

Samual said...

Thanks for sharing such a wonderful Post. There is a huge variety of display options on the market to choose from. From the cheap and nasty to the ridiculously priced, display equipment is varies widely.

Retail Signage

conqueroo said...

The trapezoid sign would not be so bad if not for the fact that there's no standardization of where to put -- or in what point size to write -- the St., Rd., Blvd. or Dr. It seems very random, and as one with an editorial background, that bothers me.

Anonymous said...

Will they take requests for new street signs? I'd like to request that they stop spelling abbreviations wrong. I know that Los Angeles is a unique place with its own logic and the English language is an arbitrary set of nonsense. However, it's "Ave." and "Blvd."

Militant Angeleno said...

Anonymous: Would you mind pointing out to us where they have misspelled the street type abbreviations?

Militant Angeleno said...

Conqueroo: The Militant has noticed that too. It might be because certain sign batches were made by different subcontractors. Also, the new "Chevy" signs have their own inconsistencies: "Main Street" appears spelled out on one sign, but "1st St" is abbreviated.

Anonymous said...

All the signs other than the shotgun style spell it "Av" and "Bl." I always suspected that it saved them money to leave off those letters, but replacing perfectly fine signs with new signs of amoebic shape doesn't save anyone money either.

Militant Angeleno said...

Anonymous: Wow, is that what got your panties in a bunch? To think what you described earlier sounded like the City used "Adu" or "Blx" for their abbreviations. Ever consider most street type abbreviations are two-letter (St, Rd, Dr, Ln, etc) and this was a way to standardize that? And surely Los Angeles is not the only city to abbreviate "Avenue" into two letters. Here's a recent New York City street sign in Queens...Note "Perry AV": http://queenscrap.blogspot.com/2010/10/street-signs-getting-expensive-facelift.html

jamesinclair said...

The rumors that the feds will force all the street signs to change is false.

The rules say that going forward, all the signs must meet the new font and reflective guidelines, and existing signs can live out their remaining life.

It's important to note that the oldest signs are all "illegal" because they do not meet the reflective guidelines. Usually signs fade after 20 years and must be replaced, but of course there's no such thing as a federal signage police.

Youll also note that going forward, all pedestrian signals MUST display a countdown (optional before). Again, the city wont have to replace the existing ones, they just need to buy the new ones in the future (they can exhaust their existing inventory).

Michael T said...

Was there a different type of sign used between 1962 and 1967 that didn't make the list? And are there any examples of signs that are pre-shotgun?

Militant Angeleno said...

Michael T: The years shown were only the years of manufacture, not necessarily installation, so basically no signs were manufactured between '62 and '67; they just used the stock that they had.

For pre-Shotgun designs, refer to the sequel (prequel) to this blog post: http://militantangeleno.blogspot.com/2011/03/more-street-signs-of-times.html

philippines homes said...

This post was really incredible and I like the street signs, it will surely help a lot. Big thanks for sharing.


Charles A

Elizabeth said...

I love USA LA area signage. See what I did with some of them here:
http://www.behance.net/gallery/Signs/2546083

Hugh Smith said...

Here in the metropolitan area where I live the cities and out lying communities are all changing to the new 6" Upper/lower case lettering for the street name and
3" Upper /lower case letters for the prefix, suffex and block numbers. The MUTCD (Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices for street and highways - 2009 edition) states that all street name signs shall be 9"X length of what is on the sign (depending on Font used, a city/county logo, etc.) The signs that have the cities logo on the left of the sign are probably the nicest I have seen. I noticed also that many state, county and local public works dept's are using a new font known as "Clear View" which to me seems easier to read. The states of PA, TX, AZ, KY have changed or are in the process of changing out the old HWY Gothic EM for the new "Clear View" type face.
We even found "Clear View" the choice of many toll roads like the Garden State Pkwy and the NJ Turnpike in New Jersey and along the Kansas Turnpike in the midwest. The reason for all these changes are simple and logical. The FHWA is working with the ADA to incease lettering size so it can be read by everyone. BTW: When I was in Los Angeles a few years bacl I noticed that LA has a tendency to place there street names on a post that is obstructed by a tree or bush of some kind. One last thing, most cities and all satates are using "Diamond Grade reflective sheeting for the blade color and lettering so it will show up better at night.

john smith said...

I am agree with your Blog.Thanks for the useful information.I have been reading a lot of stuff about it. but the way in it is presented is nice.Here is the information about
company film production.

Hugh said...

How come Los Angeles decided to use such a weird look for their new signs? I likes the old "shotgun" style better. It seems like they were the easiest to read (not the oldest ones, but the newer ones with reflective blue and white letters/numbers. I have not been back to LA in ten years but I took lots of pictures out there and until I saw this posting I had not really thought about it (the street name signs) much. I looked at many of the pictures of places I had visited and discovered that I had captured many variations of the LA street name signs. Hope to get back there some day. I still much to see!!

Reena Luise said...


Mostly all signs plus aluminum signs aside from the small-arm vogue spell it "Av" and "Bl." I perpetually suspected that it saved them cash to depart off those letters, however exchange utterly fine signs with new signs of rhizopod form does not save anyone cash either.