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Flour Power

On Venice Boulevard, the staff of light

January 25, 1998|Jim Heimann

It faces east for a reason. Built in 1930, the sign sitting atop the Helms Bakery Building on Venice Boulevard at the edge of Culver City was positioned so the traffic flowing from city to beach couldn't miss the rooftop display of Olympic rings and bursting comet. These oversized scaffold-and-channeled-lightbulb signs were once a common sight on prewar movie theaters and downtown office buildings. Most were replaced by neon in the mid-'30s and by the later, final insult of bland backlit plastic. The Helms spectacular, which is actually a combination of neon and lightbulbs, is one of the last of this dying breed. Walter Marks Realty Co., the family-run concern that owns the Helms building, would like to completely restore the sign, right down to the now-missing Olympic rings (though lit by floodlights, it is never actually switched on). Too bad. Vintage signs of any sort outside of downtown L.A. are scarce, and few owners and developers see the point of restoring them. The city's Cultural Affairs Department is one of the few agencies, public or private, that appreciates the community and marketing value of relighting these beacons--the agency-sponsored refurbishment of the Jensens' Recreation sign in Echo Park is an example. The Helms sign should be another.

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