Glendale's most prominent business, Glendale Federal Savings & Loan, has won its battle against the city's stringent sign law.
Despite warnings by city planners that the sign law could be undermined, the Glendale City Council voted 4 to 1 Tuesday to grant a variance to the giant thrift permitting it to keep all four oversized signs on its landmark eight-story building at 401 N. Brand Blvd.
Raymond D. Edwards, chairman of GlenFed Inc., the fifth largest thrift in the nation, pleaded the case in person before the council. A dozen Edwards supporters and corporate officials applauded quietly after the council vote.
The action overturned rulings by the city planning director, zoning administrator and the Board of Zoning Adjustments, which had all maintained that granting Glendale Federal the variance would be unfair to other businesses that have been forced to comply with the law, which went into effect in 1983.
With few exceptions, the city has compelled about 1,500 other businesses to change signs that did not comply. Among those removed were some unusual neon signs that many residents argued should be preserved.
The council has issued only one other variance--to Seeley's Furniture--because council members said its bright neon rooftop sign serves as "the red beacon of Glendale."
Council members said that Glendale Federal's signs also are an exception because the two giant vertical signs on the stairwell of the red, white and blue building are intrinsic to its unusual architecture. The building, erected in 1959, was the first high-rise in what has become the city's financial district.
Councilman Carl Raggio said he approved the Glendale Federal sign because "that was the only building, literally, in town. It still holds a special place in the architecture of Glendale." Councilman Jerold Milner said the signs "are significant to the integrity of the building."
Besides the vertical signs, the structure has two horizontal signs on the walls facing Brand Boulevard and Lexington Drive. The sign code permits only one sign on each of the two walls, and all four signs are larger than permitted, city officials said. Edwards, the thrift's chief, said the signs on the flagship building "are worthy" of preservation because they give identity to the city. He said the thrift, which has 11 buildings in Glendale, has complied with the law in all other cases.
He reminded council members that nationally televised newscasts in 1984 showed a small airplane that was forced to crash land, with no injuries, on Brand Boulevard in front of the Glendale Federal building and signs. That, he said, gave national exposure to the city. "People should be able to see something that says Glendale," Edwards argued. "This is a special case."
Another Glendale Federal corporate official said removal of the signs would cost the thrift, which has $16.4 billion in assets, about $40,000--an expense, he argued, that would not provide any measurable benefit to the city.
Following the vote, Edwards said he was "pleased but not surprised." He added, "The City Council is there to decide on an unusual situation, and the logic was there." Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg cast the single "no" vote, saying the double signs on the building "are superfluous and redundant on what is perceived to be a cherished corner."
Several Other Exceptions
Planning Director Gerald Jamriska acknowledged that several other exceptions were granted by city staff members for oversize signs on other high-rise institutions on Brand Boulevard.
Those exceptions were made by city staff members and did not require action by the council. However, Jamriska said Glendale Federal is the only business that sought to keep four signs where only two are permitted.
The variance will not be issued immediately because the council must, according to the law, formally list four reasons why Glendale Federal's sign should stay. City Atty. Frank Manzano, who was instructed to draw up those reasons, has warned in the past that such reasons may be challenged in court.
The matter is expected to come before the council again Aug. 26.