What a catch!
“It is 29 feet long and 12 feet high,” boasted Don Lace, who along with his younger brother Jeff landed Southern California’s most iconic fish.
The brightly illuminated blue outline of a swordfish that was located at 16278 Pacific Coast Highway in Sunset Beach for decades was reeled in by the Lace brothers, who consider their role as stewards for the iconic sign. The once-neon Don’s, as in Don the Beachcomber, sign is now part of the Lace’s growing collection of kitschy Americana.
“We will be restoring the originally neon sign that was converted to LED and I’ve already started work,” Jeff, who has an engineering background said.
When asked about cost, “Well, it was free, just like getting a free horse,” Jeff, who has a weakness for Clydesdales, said. “We did need to hire a licensed and insured sign company to remove the sign that was installed in 1960.”
He paused and added, “We are building a rack so the fish can be transported and displayed in its fully lit glory for the Belmont Shore Christmas and the Huntington Beach Fourth of July parades.”
In preparation for the massive sign’s removal, drone film footage showed one of the steel posts had rusted and housed a large bee colony. In the process of removing the sign, more evidence of corrosion led movers to believe a strong wind could have sent the 1,700-pound fish flying.
Growing up, the brothers could see the glowing sign from their family’s Huntington Beach home that was just off Bolsa Chica. In later years, Jeff lived in a condo adjacent to the landmark. While enjoying pupu platters and Mai Tais at Don’s, Jeff heard stories about boaters using the sign to navigate into the harbor.
Back in 1923, Sam’s started as a bait and tackle shop established by Greek-immigrant brothers Sam and George Arvanitis. A fish market and gift shop were later added. In the 1940s, Sam’s Seafood became a popular traveler’s destination
The cookie cutter style outline of a swordfish, appearing on matchbooks, ashtrays and post cards, became the focal point to the location’s branding — promoting their signature entrée, swordfish.
In 1959, the same year Hawaii became our 50th state, a fire destroyed the Sam’s Seafood building. Within a year, then-owners Ruth, Nick and Dick Katsaris invested $1 million and hired Belmont Shore-based architect Don Davis (who was also the architect for Sea Isle Landing at 384 Bayshore) to design the new Googie/Tiki architectural masterpiece, and Sam’s morphed into “Sam’s Seafood and Hawaiian Village.”
Sam’s has traded hands multiple times, even closing for a year in 2006. It reopened as Kona in 2007. In March 2008, plans to demolish Sam’s to develop apartments were kiboshed by preservationists.
Former Los Angeles City Councilman Art Snyder transformed the property to the Don the Beachcomber and Dagger Bar in 2009. with Bamboo Ben serving as tiki advisor, the sign was changed from Sam’s to Don’s. Since then, there have been more owner changes and most recently the Himalayan Grill is operating there.
Personally, I’m delighted the Lace boys are the fish’s keepers. Jeff restored a 1924 firetruck, Signal Hill number 7, but let it go for cheap to the grandsons of one of truck’s first firemen. Today, the firetruck is in a museum.
At Lace functions, guests are never completely sure if deep fryer explosions are parts of the well-planned entertainment or fun gone wrong.
Jeff’ s Americana collection includes a dozen or so of the remote-control tugboats that were in the pond by the Disneyland Hotel, some cool vintage trailers, and a 100-inch ship model of proposed running mate of the USS United States. He has his eye on the top 30-foot piece of the Disney Rocket jets, he is just waiting for the seller to relax the $10,000 price-tag.
Their company, Lace Products, has cool products like cigar box guitars and most recently a “teliki” guitar — “where rum and rhythm meet.” So the fish with some tiki history will fit right in.