Tuesday, June 12, 2012


In 2000 I was given a fairly generous 2-month severance package as I was laid off from my job, along with everyone else in the company. I took advantage of this time one afternoon by taking a trip south from San Francisco down the Peninsula's famed "main street", El Camino Real. El Camino cuts a long swath from the city of South San Francisco all the way deep into the ass-end of Silicon Valley, just north of San Jose. That's about 50 minutes by the parallel freeways of 280 and 101, but closer to 2-3 hours worth of driving if you take El Camino itself and suffer every stoplight. Suburbs that one travels through on this Northern California mother road include San Bruno, Burlingame, Redwood City, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Palo Alto, Millbrae, Cupertino, Los Altos, Sunnyvale and others of lesser provenance.

There are only two reasons to ever drive on El Camino. One is because something you need to get to forces you to drive on it. The other is to take photos of its dying businesses and their 1950s- and 60s-vintage signs. That was my excuse for this day-long jaunt in 2000. I'm always jealous of Southern Californians when I drive around places like Garden Grove, Alhambra, Glendale or Redondo Beach. So many amazing signs! So many classic motels! Barber shops, bowling alleys and diners in these towns and many others announce that time stood still in about 1973 and that economic development ceased. Because I love the look of old neon and the exaggerated commercialism of the 60s and 70s, any time I come across an old sign like the ones in these towns I'm already sad at its eventual and certain demise, even while it's still standing.

Given that the San Francisco Bay Area in 2000 was only just starting to feel the downturn in dot-com mania, and that old buildings and apartment complexes were still rapidly being torn down to make room for lofts and condos, I figured I'd better get down to El Camino Real with my Instamatic camera and start snappin'. El Camino's our closest and really only equivalent to the commercial architectural treasures still found in LA, but in the 12 years since I took these pictures, my worst fears have indeed been confirmed, and many of these businesses are now gone. Some remain - somehow. Hopefully these poorly-shot photos mean something to someone besides myself, and if anyone knows of similar signs-n-ephemera galleries out there on the web, please post links in the comments section below.