Pepsi-Cola Sign in Long Island City is Designated a Landmark | PDF Icon linking to PDF version of article

When asked “Where is Queens West, Exactly?” Point to the Pepsi Sign

Almost 30 years after being calendared for landmark designation, the Pepsi sign, on April 12, 2016, was designated as a landmark.  The sign, built in 1936, was installed at the top of the Pepsi bottling plant in Long Island City.  The bottling plant, closed in 1999, is gone – the sign remains.

Although a landmark must be at least 30 years old, the designation often takes considerably longer.  Some examples are the Chrysler Building which was landmarked in 1978, the Empire State Building landmarked in 1981 and the Rockefeller Center landmarked in 1985.

As the Pepsi sign was being designated as a landmark, the Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair, Meenakshi Srinivasan observed, “This is probably one of the most universally loved and recognized signs and it represents many things, and tells a specific story about industry in Long Island City.”

The Pepsi sign has a storied and charmed place in history. Its place on the Cityscape was cemented when, in 2001, the developer of the north end of the Queens West waterfront complex was able to buy 21 acres from PepsiCo., while PepsiCo reserved a 60 by 200 foot parcel as the permanent home for the Pepsi sign.  Quoted in the New York Times on July 10, 2013, Jon McMillan, the planning director at TF Cornerstone said, “Pepsi was not going to sell the land to anyone unless they kept the sign.”

On July 10, 2013, New York Times writer, David W. Dunlap, put the Pepsi sign’s incredible and lasting resilience and prominence in perspective: “Once regarded as an eyesore, the sign is generally embraced as a symbol of Long Island City’s industrial past, as a colossal work of Pop Art and as a way for those who live in the six buildings of TF Cornerstone’s Long Island City development to orient friends and families.”

For residents of the TF Cornerstone development, it is no longer necessary to ask “Where Is Queens West, Exactly?”

The Landmark Designation Process

The New York City Landmark Commission, formed in 1965, defines a “landmark” as an improvement, at least 30 years old, which has a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage or cultural characteristic of the city, state or nation.

There are four types of landmarks:

  1. Industrial Landmarks, such as bridges, certain skyscrapers or the Coney Island Wonder Wheel;
  2. Interior Landmarks, such as the Ed Sullivan Theater;
  3. Scenic Landmarks, such as Central Park or Prospect Park; and
  4. Historic Districts which hold architectural or historical significance such as Ladies’ Mile in Manhattan or Cobble Hill in Brooklyn. [Note that the Landmarks Preservation Commission extended the Park Slope Historic District in Spring 2016 by adding 300 more buildings.

Demolition of a landmark is prohibited unless the owner can present financial reasons for the demolition—even then the City might try to find a more cooperative buyer for the building, offer tax abatements or enable selling the building’s air rights to create a scenario under which demolition would be avoided. The landmark status also requires the owner to keep the building in good shape and safe to operate, in return for which the owner will be eligible for tax abatements and favorable loan arrangements as well as other benefits.

In Spite of Preservation Victories, Notable Losses: For Example, Old Penn Station

Preservation by private organizations and citizens’ groups had a number of preservation victories including most notably Carnegie Hall in 1956 and the Dakota Apartment building in 1961 (later landmarked in 1970). In spite of notable preservation victories, a majority of condemned buildings went without any organized protest, including most notably, the tearing down of New York’s old Penn Station in 1963 – 1966.

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Published on: May 6, 2016