The end of the Central Liquor sign?


The famous Central Liquor sign located at 9th and F in Penn Quarter may soon be no more.  Tomorrow, the DC Historic Preservation Review Board is scheduled to hear an application to change the iconic two-sided aluminum and enamel paneled blade sign.   The new occupant of the building is proposing to remove the letters spelling Central Liquor and replace them with “Joe’s Souvenir”.  If their application is approved, an American flag would also be added to the top circle where the C now stands. 

Ever since the Central Liquor owners, Alec Akopov, Gregory Baiatyan and Valery Akopov, moved the store to its new 625 E Street location, the fate of the sign has been up in the air.  “The [F Street] building owner now owns the sign,” Akopov told The Washington Times. “It is not ours anymore. We have a nice new space here and a nice new sign.”  He said that the store’s current landlord did not permit a sign that large because of the residential units above them.

According to the HPRB Staff Report and Recommendation, the sign probably dates to 1936 when the already established Central Liquor was purchased by a new owner.  As the store moved to different locations over the years, from 518 9th Street to the Victor Building at 724-726 9th Street to its current location, the sign went along with it.

It looks like the worst case scenario will be a less intrusive alteration than the souvenir shop would like.  The HPRB is recommending that the store be allowed to change “Liquor” to “Souvenir”, but would limit the change there. 

According to the Board’s recommendations, the subject of altering a historic sign has not come before it in recent memory.  So, what do you think should happen to the sign?  How important is it to keep visual remnants of a neighborhood’s past?

10 thoughts on “The end of the Central Liquor sign?

  1. Paul

    I’m against any proposal that alters the “Central” part of the neon signage. But removing “Liquor” and replacing it with a compatible piece that says “Souvenir” seems justified.

  2. Barry

    You’re talking about this ugly neon sign like it’s La Scala. It’s not. It’s an ugly neon sign advertising a store that is no longer there. I hate to be a wet blanket, but there are many treasures in DC and this is not one of them.

  3. John Thompson

    I’m with Josh on this. As a downtown resident, I am 100% against changes to this sign – especially given the proposed changes. This sign is part of the history & nostalgia of F St., it gives it character. I believe it should be preserved & it should remain at it’s original location. I was equally as sad when the neon sign for the Trio’s Pizza & Sub shop was altered for Hank’s Oyster Bar (don’t get me wrong, I love Hank’s – but the original neon was a part of the neighborhood’s character).

    On another note, I wouldn’t shed a tear if Joe’s Souvenier moved or even closed (it’s 100% OUT OF PLACE with the other businesses on that block), along with the other souvenier shops on 10th street. They’re tacky eyesores. I’d rather see a vacant storefront until something that enhances the neighborhood vs. cheapens it could move in. A mini, independent, local grocer/butcher would have been terrific. Just sayin’.

  4. Barry

    I don’t quite understand why an advertisement becomes beloved. The presence of absence of a neon light is weak thing to get upset about.

    1. Josh

      Familiarity and nostalgia. Why do we care about the Citgo sign in Fenway in Boston? Or why do we call it Times Square in NYC? Advertising becomes as much part of the landscape as do our buildings. Both are artificial, but both become familiar and memorable. They can add flavor and color to a community.

      1. Barry

        I understand that this is true. I just don’t quite get why. If we’ve seen some crass flashing light for long enough, we go from irritation to acceptance to nostalgia?

        If the Citgo sign were missing from Fenway, the Red Sox would still be awesome. Sausage & peppers on Lansdowne Street would taste just as wonderful.

        Scenery changes. It’s fine. That’s why we like looking at old photographs of the same locations.

  5. This vintage neon sign is an important piece of our city’s history and should NOT be altered. Too many of DCs neon art has been lost over the decades and this important example should be preserved. I would like to suggest that the owner give the sign to the Historical Society of Washington and fund its permanent installation there as an exhibit piece.

    1. @Jerry – thanks for your comments. I agree that something should be done to protect the sign. At the bare minimum, with all of the development going up on F Street, keeping it will help prevent the area from becoming a characterless strip mall.

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