Satellite Shopland Then and Now

3 January

We have been collaborating with Teresa Young (see her profile at, on her Once Upon a Sign series to create blog posts about individual signs in the museum’s collection.  Our most recent collaboration presents the story of the Satellite Shopland sign, one of my personal favorites.  Her post is presented below. Enjoy.

This is a new, regular feature of the Signhugger Blog, with the help of Tod Swormstedt, Founder of the American Sign Museum. My purpose, when I approached Tod for this concept, was to draw attention to the ways that signs have been part of our visual lexicon for generations, and how they create a more spirited environment. I want people to look at old signs fondly, feel nostalgia, and respect their design, and especially, their stories…. “Visitors to the American Sign Museum are generally pleasantly surprised at the number of signs and the manner in which the signs are displayed. But often, I hear it’s the stories I can relate about the signs that make the museum experience unique. I’m told they call this “provenance” in museum speak. Thanks to Teresa M. Young, I will be sharing some of these stories with you.”

For the Love of Googie!

Courtesy Pete Phillips 1992

According to Wikipedia, Googie architecture (also known as populuxe or Doo-Wop) is a form of modern architecture and a subdivision of futurist architecture, influenced by car culture and the Space and Atomic Ages. The origin of the name Googie dates to 1949, when architect John Lautner designed the coffee shop Googies, which had very distinctive architectural characteristics. The style, however, originated in Southern California during the late 1940s and continuing approximately into the mid-1960s. The types of buildings that were most frequently designed in a Googie style were motels, coffee houses and bowling alleys. And one famous shopping center: Satellite Shopland.Gone, But Not ForgottenTod Swormstedt is partial to the Googie sign style. He says,

“I’m often asked what is my favorite sign in the museum and my usual answer goes something like this: ‘Well, it’s kinda like Christmas morning for a little kid. Their favorite present is the first one they open . . . that is until they open the second one and then that becomes the ‘new’ favorite.’ We are always acquiring new additions to the collection, and so my ‘favorites’ so to speak are a moving target. I do, however, favor some of the funkier signs—particularly those of the 1950s when there were relatively no sign codes to deal with. And right up there is the Satellite Shopland sign.”

Apparently, it’s a favorite for many: If you do a search for “Satellite Shopland – Anaheim” in almost any search engine, you’ll find numerous references to the famed Satellite Shopland sign.

Here’s the story behind the story….
The prosperous 1950s celebrated its affluence with optimistic designs. The public was captivated by rocket ships and nuclear energy, so, in order to draw their attention, architects used these as motifs in their work. The term was coined in 1952 by House and Home Magazine editor Douglas Haskell. Anaheim and particularly, Katella Avenue, was a center for the Googie. Cruising the city’s seedier side, Jane Newell is documenting the goofy, gaudy Space Age phenomenon before it’s all torn down. Disney and the town fathers were intent on de-Googifying Katella Avenue and surrounding area and preparing for all the revenue that Disney’s now failed California Adventure park would pull in.

Then-Planning Commissioners Julie Mayer and Bob Heninger drove around Anaheim looking for Googie, with the idea that at the very least, someone should take pictures before it was gone. And the Satellite Shopland shopping center sign topped their list of concerns – its fate was sealed when it fell in the path of the Santa Ana (I-5) Freeway widening. The glowing orb of this sputnik satellite that used to grace the top of the sign was claimed by progress in 1999, when the city began revamping the Anaheim Resort area.

As a result of Mayer and Heninger’s efforts, the city agreed to photograph 20 colorful signs before they were torn down — in black and white. The project was started by a city intern, then handed over to Newell.

Newell started with the idea of preserving photos of 20 kitschy signs that were about to be demolished. Now she can’t stop. Googie architecture and its light-hearted style is disappearing rapidly.

What Starts in California… Ends Up in Ohio

The majority of the signs were scrapped by the individual property owners. Fortunately, the Satellite Shopland sign was saved by Daniel Sullivan, a Pasadena resident and lighting designer. His backyard became the half-way house for this grand icon, no longer enjoying its glory days shining over Katella Avenue.

The American Sign Museum found out about the sign, and purchased it, together with another Los Angeles-area icon—the Earl Sheib globe—in 1999.

“Right after I purchased the sign, we had to hire a crane truck to load it onto our trailer,” explains Swormstedt.

The sign is now front and center as visitors enter the Sign Garden lobby area of the museum’s current facility in Cincinnati, Ohio. Don’t miss the globe in action in this YouTube video! Pictured below: The Sign Garden at the American Sign Museum’s current facility located at 2515 Essex Place, Cincinnati, Ohio 45206.

Newell is just one of thousands of individuals who appreciated the satellite sign. For many, it symbolized arrival on Disney’s doorstep. For others, it represented an easier and more optimistic era.

Today, Newell photographs the Googie sites with her own cameras. Now, she’s up to 111 places and counting, doing most of the work at night andon the weekends.

And the Satellite shopping center?

The owners, laying claim to their piece of Americana and recognizing this unique style as  iconographic, assured the beloved sputnik image lived on within the confines of the new, uniform sign structure.

Though the city could mandate a cookie-cutter monument sign structure, at the heart of the sign is a vector image of the beautiful, glowing, colorful “satellite” to remind us that Googie still delights young and old, and celebrating our past illuminates our future.  The tenants of Shopland wanted to make sure the spirit of the original sputnik-like icon was preserved. And so it is . . .


[9.8.12 ASM Note: Since moving to our new home, the Satellite Shopland sign is now prominently displayed within the museum proper and awaits visitors as they venture deeper into the museum from the earliest years into the 50’s and beyond.]

Photo courtesy of Scott Beseler, Soapbox Media

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