When was the last time you appreciated the little wonders that make your hometown unique? There are hidden histories and quirky stories all around us. Take this one historic sign in San Francisco, for example. It was so iconic that a community came together to keep it alive!
On this installment of Saturdays Around the World, we’re heading off to the city of San Francisco, California to learn about one of these hidden histories. It’s a story that began with some bridges, an International Exposition, a young artist, and a seagull. And, just maybe, it’s a story that will have you appreciating the wonderful little details that make the place you call home feel like, well, home.
The 49 Mile Scenic Drive
As you drive around San Francisco, you may start seeing an interesting sign among your traditional “stop,” “one way,” and “no parking”. Amidst all the bustle, a bright blue sign with a decorative seagull and the words 49 Mile Scenic Drive will emerge.
This 49 Mile Scenic Drive was first opened in 1938 as a part of the festivities surrounding the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition. Beloved by day-trippers, it became an exciting way to see the wonders of San Francisco during the era of the automobile. In 1955, when the route got an upgrade, so too did the signs. In a contest open to the public, a young artist named Rex May came out the winner. And his now-iconic seagulls were hung as the replacements for the drab yellow triangles that used to signal the route. 1
But a few years after his death, people began to notice some changes to those beloved signs. Their outrage, once again, brought this quirky bit of San Francisco’s history into the public spotlight.
“Signs, really?” you might think. “Isn’t there something more interesting to talk about?” Well, the answer is, no!
These signs represent more than just a funky drive through San Francisco. Their story speaks to the power of local activism, sparking joy, and seeing your hometown with fresh eyes.
If you want to see more from Bradley Smith you can check out his Vimeo channel or his website. You can also explore the work of his collaborators Alexander Barrett and Tyler McPherron to see more as well!
There’s Joy in the Details
There’s so much joy to be found in a story like this one! First, there’s the notion that people cared enough about their city’s history to ask for the design to be changed. Their passion speaks to the way we can all get excited about the history of where we live, and what we can create together when we do. And second, it’s extraordinary to think that a letter-writing campaign could have such an impact and that a city would value its history enough to make things right.
Imagine what we could do in our own communities to preserve those little bits of history and the small wonders that make us unique!
The next time you walk down your block, or through your downtown, take a look around. What do the signs look like? Notice the details on the buildings around you, the things you love about your local park. What do these details say about where you are? The way a wall of neon lights up the bustling streets of Hong Kong creates an entirely different feel than the hand-lettered signs in a quiet New England downtown. Very often though, we don’t take a pause and notice these kinds of details.
“Notice the small things, the results are inversely proportional”— Liz Vassey
I always find that learning about the history of a place, or starting to recognize what makes a place special–like its signs–makes me feel a greater appreciation for the world around me. It’s almost as though these hidden gems and little touches that bring us joy are a secret I get to be in on. And the streets we walk down every day can start to feel very special.
How will you start to look at the world around you with fresh eyes? What kind of joy will you preserve and share with others? What seagulls need some love in your hometown?
Stay beautiful & keep laughing!
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- Walking San Francisco’s 49 Mile Scenic Drive. “Creation and History of San Francisco’s 49 Mile Scenic Drive | Walking San Francisco’s 49 Mile Drive—.” Walking San Francisco’s 49 Mile Drive, 21 July 2018, walksf49.com/creation-history-49-mile-drive/. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019. ↩
- smith, bradley. “49 Mile Scenic Drive.” Vimeo, bradley smith, 18 Nov. 2019, vimeo.com/337060404. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019. ↩