SOUTH PASADENA — The Gus's Bar-B-Q sign will stay, even though the building it's attached to has to go.
The 40-year-old sign at 808 Fair Oaks Ave. has been around so long it has achieved historic landmark status worthy of preservation, the City Council agreed last week after hearing a public clamor to save it.
Not so Gus's Barbecue itself, which is in a building so badly damaged by the Oct. 1, 1987, earthquake that it will be demolished and rebuilt.
The old-fashioned flashing, animated sign, which was referred to as "an art form impossible to reproduce today" and "the highest expression of the American Dream" at Wednesday's council meeting, was the biggest issue for the overflow crowd. It was granted what amounts to eternal life by officials in a city known for its tenacious grip on small-town values in the face of development proposals and a freeway route.
80 Boosters at Meeting
More than 80 of Gus's boosters, including descendants of the original owners and a waitress who worked there 43 years, packed City Hall to appeal a Planning Commission decision to prohibit the sign. The commission ruled in November that it violates several provisions of a new ordinance that will go into effect June 1.
Gus's, a small restaurant started by three Greek immigrant brothers in the 1940s, has been closed for a year and a half while a second generation has pondered its fate. Owners Peter Tripodes and Dino Lappas recently decided to rebuild on the same site and to pattern the new restaurant after the old, designing the front specifically to show off the landmark sign.
It protrudes higher than the rooftop of its current building, and so will the new one. It is animated, with multicolored little pigs and chickens flickering around the edges.
The new law prohibits signs that extend above a building. It also forbids animation and flashing lights. Although it does not specifically prohibit neon, it was intended to control the whirling buckets and glaring arches of fast-food eateries that burgeoned a decade ago, Mayor James Woolacott said.
The council has asked the Planning Commission to consider a provision in the sign ordinance that would protect signs of historic significance. Signs like the one on the Rialto Theater a block away are already protected because the structure is a historic landmark.
Architect Edward Bilezikjian said the new building was designed to integrate the sign. "Our concept is the sign is part of the building, not something that's attached," he said. Calling it "a fixture in the community and a significant landmark," he said it will help the owners get back in business after their long absence. Construction is expected to begin in March, he said.
Lappas and Tripodes appealed the Planning Commission decision to the council and circulated flyers asking for community support at Wednesday's meeting. Fans of the sign came to the meeting and told the council they thought it was "charming," "delightful," "whimsical," "significant and historic."
'Element of Urban Vitality'
Lili Lakich, director of the Museum of Neon Art in Los Angeles, said Gus's sign is one of the best of its kind remaining in the Los Angeles area. He said it is "symbolic of the American spirit and an element of urban vitality."
Amedee Richards, spokesman for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation, said keeping the sign "is important to the charm and character of our town."
Council member Joseph Crosby said, "I look at this as motherhood and apple pie and part of what makes our town unique."
Councilman Samuel Knowles asked for the sign's approval "for as long as Gus's is in use as a restaurant."
"That means forever," Tripodes told well-wishers after the meeting.