By Bill Parry
The Pepsi-Cola sign that stands on the East River waterfront at the north end of Gantry Plaza State Park is now a city landmark. The sign had been under consideration by the Landmarks Preservation Commission since 1988 years and Tuesday it was designated by a unanimous vote.
The LPC called the sign “one of the most iconic features of the New York City waterfront, and an irreplaceable piece of the urban landscape, representing commercial advertising and American industry.” The decision had been expected since February when the LPC held hearings on 100 properties citywide that had been calendared for decades.
“It’s one of the most notable icons in Queens, and although it enjoys many protections, it is really most appropriate that it also becomes a New York City Landmark,” LPC Commissioner Diana Chapin said. “This will celebrate its presence as an important piece, not only of New York City, but of national, corporate and individual history.”
Changes in the zoning code in the latter half of the 20th century and early 21st century have contributed to a reduction in the number of large, illuminated signs, which once crowned the factories and warehouses of many of Long Island City’s most prominent companies.
“I’m pleased and proud that the LPC has listened to our community’s requests and recognized the Pepsi-Cola sign as the New York City landmark that it is,” City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said. “The Pepsi-Cola sign has been an iconic part of the Long Island City landscape since 1936. This staggering piece of pop art brings character to our neighborhood and reminds residents of Queens’ history as an industrial powerhouse.”
Built in 1936, the 80-year-old neon sign, which stands 60 feet tall and 120-feet-long, is a nod to Long Island City’s industrial past having stood atop a massive Pepsi bottling plant since 1940. The plant was closed in 1999 and demolished to make way for the 21-acre Queens West Development Corporation. When TF Cornerstone bought the site from Pepsico, it agreed to display the sign on the property and when the developer constructed the last of six luxury high rises, it had architect firm Aquitectonica design the building to wrap around the sign. The facade facing the sign is set back for the first eight floors and juts out from the ninth floor up to frame the sign.
“During its public hearing there was widespread support for the designation of the Pepsi sign,” LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivassan said. “Its prominent siting and its frequent appearances in pop culture have made it one of our most endearing and recognizable icons on the Queens waterfront.”
The sign came up for landmarking in the 1980s but was calendered in 1988. By 1993 it had experienced significant deterioration accelerated by damage from a winter storm. The original creator, Artkraftat Strauss Sign Corporation, was brought in to restore and replicate the sign.
“That sign is our glowing beacon to Manhattan and to everyone coming to Long Island City,” Hunters Point Parks Conservancy President Rob Basch said. “It’s great news that this iconic structure isn’t going anywhere. Besides, we just planted a whole lot of tulip and daffodil bulbs around the base of the sign. ”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr