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  • Joseph Dolman

What the Pepsi sign tells us

The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission said last week it will finally bring to a vote, sometime this year, a plan to designate the giant Pepsi-Cola sign on Queens' East River waterfront as a protected landmark.

Yeah. Sometime this year. The commission has had this proposal on file since 1988. So why hasn't it been decided already? Well, that's like asking why the Second Avenue subway hasn't been built yet. It's just one of those New York things.

But here are the facts: Following the sign's creation in the mid-1930s, it was perched on the roof of a 5th Street bottling plant in Long Island City. When the plant was subsequently closed, the 60-foot-tall neon ad was transplanted into a neighborhood of creepy, ancient warehouses and decaying factories that lined the river.

From there the sign has pitched the joys of Pepsi to generations of Manhattan office workers and fuming drivers stuck on the FDR.

So why make it an official icon? There's the matter of art. The landmark commission staff in the 1990s called the sign an "excellent example of the neon display technology which began to transform outdoor advertising in the 1920s."

But the real issue today is about pride.

That's because the sign no longer stands amid the grungy detritis of industrial wreckage. Instead, it highlights the makeover of western Queens, which is now dotted with new public spaces and sparkling residential towers offering drop-dead views and short commutes to Manhattan.

While this luminous mass of neon is a throwback to our past, its amber glow has also become a beacon marking a new optimism for our future. Sounds like a landmark to me.

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