The iconic pepsi cola sign is a remnant of long island city's industrial past, but has survived to this day due to its landmark status that was granted in 2016. The sign is not the original because it was destroyed in a storm and then rebuilt in 1994 so the current one is only 28 years old.
Updated as of 5/11/22.
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History of the original pepsi-cola sign
The original pepsi cola sign was made around 1938 by Artkraft Strauss, a sign design and consulting company, for the newly built PepsiCo bottling facility that was recently completed in 1936 in Long Island City. The sign was perched atop of the bottling plant located at 46-02 5th Street, Long Island City, NY 11101.
The bottling plant and the neon sign were not unusual for Long Island City in the 1940s because the entire neighborhood was of industrial origins with warehouses and factories sprawled out all over. It was only within the last two decades that the neighborhood underwent redevelopment with its new glamorous high rise residential buildings. Due to new zoning regulations, neon signs have all but mostly disappeared with the exception of the pepsi-cola.
History of the new pepsi-cola sign
The original pepsi cola sign lasted for over 50 years before it was destroyed by the December 1992 nor'easter and consequently the new sign was rebuilt by Artkraft Strauss in 1994. Unfortunately pepsi decided to close their bottling facility in 1999 when they decided to move their entire operation to College Point, Queens which use to be occupied by the Canada Dry bottling company until around 1996.
PepsiCo eventually sold the land that the bottling plant was sitting on in 2003 except a small 200 feet by 60 feet parcel of land for the sign to remain on. Pepsi recognized that the sign was a form of marketing that they would never be able to recreate again due to new zoning regulations that forbid neon signs so that was why they kept it.
The pepsi cola sign was relocated multiple times while Long Island City was undergoing redevelopment, particularly in 2004 when Gantry Plaza State park was being reconstructed. The sign occupied a temporary plot about 300 feet away while the park was under construction. Ultimately, it was reassembled at its now permanent location in 2009 when all of the construction was completed.
Shortly after, the luxury rental apartment developer TF Cornerstone began construction of their a building at 46-10 Center Boulevard but they carved out an eight story recess for the pepsi-cola sign. The building was completed in 2014 but the sign luckily remained untouched since then.
Landmark status of the pepsi-cola sign
The iconic sign was in discussion for landmark status designation since 1988 but it did not receive its approval until April of 2016. You read that correctly, it took over 28 years before it finally became a landmark but interestingly, it technically did not qualify as one because it was not old enough.
To be considered as a New York City landmark, structures have to be at least 30 years old but since the original pepsi cola sign was destroyed in 1992, the new sign was only 24 years old. The commission still granted the status because the rebuilt sign stayed faithful to the old design and due to overwhelming public support for it.
To summarize, the pepsi-cola sign was a nod to Long Island City's industrial past but has persisted due to it's iconic pop culture presence and ultimately ended up as a designated landmark. PepsiCo was clever enough to recognize the marketing value of the sign and has kept ownership of the small parcel of land which the pepsi cola sign sits on. That land is still maintained by Pepsi and is their full responsibility.
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