1940s-era Coca-Cola billboard in San Francisco's Bernal Heights to be covered up 

The suddenly infamous Bernal Heights Coca-Cola billboard will apparently be covered up with siding in the hope that it can be preserved until a possible historic designation makes it legal to display once more.

Last Thursday, landlord Richard Modolo responded to a violation notice from the San Francisco Planning Department by applying for a permit to cover the painted soft drink sign.

The notice informed Modolo that he faced daily fines of $100 and a possible extra fee of $1,200 for violating various Planning Department guidelines, according to the violation notice. “When I looked at that … it just takes your breath away,” he said.

After being notified last month that the billboard didn’t have an advertising permit from The City, Modolo was given 30 days to either remove the sign, apply for a permit or request a reconsideration notice.

But choosing the latter option would have required Modolo to pay $3,400 up front for the initial hearing and possible fees, according to the notice. “Just as I’m reading this thing, I’m thinking how can you possibly do anything,” Modolo said. “They’re making it so difficult.”

So Modolo opted to cover the sign for the time being. He said he’ll find out later this week if the department approved his plans.

Bernal Heights residents who support the billboard have expressed interest in seeking help from Supervisor David Campos, who represents the area, to protect it by creating a “historic sign district.”

Planning Commission Vice President Ron Miguel said that although the sign isn’t currently legal, there are ways that it could be made legal. “Somehow, it’s got to be resolved,” Miguel said.

Miguel said creation of a historic sign district would probably fall in the hands of The City’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Commission Vice President Courtney Damkroger said similar issues have arisen in the past. If the sign has integrity and meets Planning Department criteria, Damkroger said there is a possibility that it could be deemed “historical.”

Modolo grew up right around the corner from the property, which he bought in 1977. After tearing down the asbestos siding that previously covered the billboard, Modolo discovered the sign in 1991 and has since repainted it about three times.

“I kind of painted all around it,” Modolos said after initially discovering the sign. “I was saving it. I liked that it was part of the history of the building.”


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