Monday, May 7, 2012

Final paper

Maria Morelli
Art 295

Old and new Signage of North Beach

            Signage surrounds us, it is part or our everyday lives. Most people do not realize the impact and large role signs have over our lives. We see them every single day of our lives. Whether they are informing us or amusing, us signs are part of our lives. Signs have many different roles, but it is when we stop and pay attention to them, we realize their artistic side. From old and historic to new and futuristic, signs are what define an area.
            The rich history, culture and strong ethnic background make North Beach the perfect place to see amazing signs. Named after a beach that was filled in by land in the 1800’s, the popular tourist destination in San Francisco can make anyone feel like they are in Europe, while they are there. Having Coit Tower and the famous City Lights Bookstore here adds to its diversity. North Beach contains Little Italy, and many of the restaurants here are Italian. An influx of Italians came to the area in the late 1800’s with the help of the ports. With the new cultures coming to live in this part of the city, it started to transform. This area was part of the beat movement of the 1950’s.  The beat movement that the City Light bookstore played a role in transformed North Beach, the old Italian shops stated to mesh with the beat style.

With its large Italian population, North Beach became known as Little Italy. The Italians started to open up restaurants here, and the area is still known for these restaurants today.
Even thought it has a large number of Italian based restaurants, you can find many other cultural type of restaurants in the area. This is another reason North Beach is such a great place to study the culture and history of their signage. North Beach is also known for its lively nightlife with lots of bars and clubs that have a special character to them. This is where the famous red light district of San Francisco is located. Another thing North Beach is known for are the little boutiques and shops that line the streets, where you can find, unique items.
This area was also part of the original Barbary Coast trail and contains one of the oldest streets in San Francisco, Grant Avenue.  The Barbary Coast Trial is a 3.8-mile trail around the original streets of the city. The trail begins at 5th and Mission Streets and runs toward the waterfront. This trail started by Daniel Bacon marks the original important streets of San Francisco. He also wrote a book to accompany the Barbary Trail to help people find and notice the important cites. In the city North Beach is a very important part of San Francisco and its history,  and this is why I chose to study, compare and contrast, old and new signs here.

North Beach has a large number of old signage, because of how long it has been around. Many of the signs are attractive, and from restaurants or cafés. Having an old signs out side of a restaurant or café can help the reputation of the place. When new people come to this area for the first time, and want a place to eat and the older sign will stand out to them. Tourists want to feel like they are eating at authentic Italian restaurants that have good food. By seeing an old sign that looks like it has been there for many years, it is easier to assume that this place has good food. If it did not then the place would not have survived for so long.

More than just the beauty and appeal of old signage, it can also be an indicator of an established business.  The signage company Bohemia Signs states that “ An attractive sign is much more likely to draw customers into your business and beautify your neighborhood at the same time.” Bohemia Signs is a company that specializes in hand painted signs.  While the hand painted signs are new, they are made to have the appearance of being older. The hand painted signs give more of an authentic look to the business. Even when a business does not have the real authentic old signage, some places still strive to obtain that look. The look of having an old worn in sign on the front of your store is appealing, people are willing to pay for new signs that look old.

This aspect of old traditional signage is a part of San Francisco culture. San Francisco is known for a rich blend of many different cultures. The signs in the city reflect this blend, and the businesses are trying to keep this look going. Instead of turning to new signs that are powered by technology, most of the family run places are keeping the traditional old signs. This can be seen as you walk the streets of North Beach, and look at all the little restaurant and cafés. Dating back to the late 1800’s, when the immigrants from over from Italy, North Beaches’ businesses have a long history to them. This history adds to the appeal, from not only tourist aspect but also with local San Francisco people.
The large amount of old and made to look old signs in North Beach is part of its character. When walking down the streets of North Beach, you feel as if you have been transported to Europe. This area is unlike any other district in the city. Rich with a European vibe that creates a sense of calming peace during the daytime, and a lively craziness of the red light district at night, it is no wonder this is a popular place to visit, for both tourist and locals. The signage plays a big role in helping to define the area. The beat movement has blended with the Italian culture, to create a unique atmosphere, which is unlike any other.

Once you start to see older, traditional looking signs of little cafes there is no question you are in North Beach. Some of the ways in which you can tell and decipher if a sign is new or old are what materials were used to make it. Some materials have not been around for many years. By looking at what materials the sign was made with, can help pinpoint the year it is from. By looking at the different technology used in signage, can also help you tell the year it was made. Currently there is a lot of new technology that is being used. Some examples are the billboard signs that change ads every couple of seconds. Also the Ads that are seen in places like malls, that flash and change every few seconds. Signage is in a transition period, and is using more and more technology.

This is why it is refreshing to come to a place like North Beach, which still has a large number of traditional types of signage. Instead of seeing the big, bright flashing signs of Union Square, which is not far away or seeing the brightly colored signs that clutter the streets of Chinatown, you see the serene signs of the small quaint cafes of North Beach. The area transforms at night to be the lively red light district. The signs are what complete the area and helps shape it. The atmosphere and look are important to the appeal of North Beach.
When you walk down the street in North Beach there is no doubt what district you are in. Even though Chinatown is not very far away, it is a completely different atmosphere. The signage is a big indicator telling you where you are. All you have to do is turn down one street and you are in another district. All of the sudden signs with Chinese words will start to appear. Signage is also important in dividing up the districts. Seeing signs with Chinese writing or vintage signs of cafes can be a huge indicator to what area it is. With out having this specific signage that shapes an area, it would be less clear to determine where you are.
Many cafes and bars here have been around for centuries, for example “The Gold Spike” was started in 1920. The same family has owned The Gold Spike since it first opened. This was a well known bar the served very good traditional Italian food. The sign of the Gold Spike bar is very simple but bold at the same time. A large banner hangs over the entrances to the bar. The simple letters and bright gold coloring, helps draw people in. Also on the windows there are the words, The Gold Spike in gold lettering. Their sign is simple and to the point, letting people know that this is an old traditional restaurant. This style has worked for a long time; so they have kept the same style of sign for many years.
Another restaurant that has a long history in North Beach is Stella’s Pastry. Located on the main drag, Stella’s has been a traditional Italian bakery since 1942. This has been a popular place loved by not only tourist but also many San Francisco locals. Their sign is a light blue with white wording. While not very big it, stands out especially at night when it lights up bright pink. On the windows there is gold lettering with the words Stella’s Pastry and Café. The gold lettering helps create the feeling of a European café. This gold lettering is very common on many of the windows in North Beach, because it recreates the look of an old Italian cafe.
Although North Beach has a lot of restaurants that have been around for many years, there are also some new comers to the scene. For example Don Pisto's, just opened about three years ago. They are a Mexican restaurant located on Union Street. Don Pisto’s does a new take on Mexican street food. Also they pride themselves s on only using fresh ingredients. While they are a new restaurant they do not have the look of being brand new.
Don Pisto’s looks as if it has been there for many years, even though it has only been in North Beach for a mere three years. The outside of the building it is all dark brick, with some red bricks mixed in. There is no large sign that jumps out at people just small little sign, almost giving the feeling that you have to know about this place before hand, rather than wandering in off the street. This interesting tactic of not having a big sign can create a sense of exclusivity of the people coming here. This can also add to the feeling of Don Pistos’s being older than it actually is. The inside of the building matches the outside. The inside is all brick just like the outside. All of the bricks lead to a dark yet cozy feeling to the place.
Don Pisto’s is an example of how North Beach is a not a place of strictly European style restaurants. While North Beach does have a lot of European restaurants, more and more places of other cultures are opening there. The cultures are blending together to create a more diverse and interesting area. Txoko is another place that is new to the area.  They focus on food from Spain. As North Beach grows and transforms we will see more businesses that are not only European style, but from different areas and cultures. This mix of cultures in the new businesses only helps add to the charm and character, making North Beach an even more interesting place to visit.
Txoko pronounced “choco" is relativity new to North Beach. They describe themselves as a “bar striving to provide excellent food and service in a casual and unpretentious environment.” They mix both French and Spanish food together. Just like Don Pisto’s, Txoko’s sign has the appearance and feeling of being old. Their main symbol is an emblem that looks like a coat of arms. In rich dark wood, with a pig and rooster on either side of the sign, it has a historical quality. The inside also has the same appeal as the main symbol. The inside has dark colors and low lighting adding to the atmosphere. The look Txoko is striving for is the image that they are an old historical restaurant.
The drive for the new business of North Beach to have vintage looking signs is a big trend. Most of the business there are old, so they naturally have the vintage signage. The new businesses that come in feel they need to keep up the look, to they fit in with the atmosphere of North Beach.  Having an old appearing sign can help draw customers in. The new places know this fact; this is why they want to look as if they have been established for many years. The new restaurants want people to think they have been here for a long time, so people will be more likely to come in and try their food. Vintage signs appear in North Beach not only because they owners have not bothered to change the sign. The old signage is part of their history and appeal to the customers; this is what the new places are striving to accomplish, but without putting in the actual time.

From the red light district to the small quaint cafes, there is no doubt North Beach has a rich culture. Even though it is a relativity small area, the influence it has on San Francisco is big. North Beach contains some famous landmarks of the city like, City Lights Book store and Coit tower. The historic landmarks and cafes of little Italy are what define the character of North Beach. The signs of these places are not just a simple signs. The signs in North Beach are art and give the area beauty. Without this aspect North Beach would not be the same.
We see signs everyday of our lives and we do not realize the huge role they play. They define the districts of San Francisco, by being indictors as to what area you are in.  They are also an expression of artistic beauty for the businesses of North Beach. Whether new or old, it is when we take the time to stop and notice a sign, that it becomes more than just a sign, it is a work of art.


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