On May 6, 2003, several hundred people gathered in the rain to witness the lighting of an Atlanta landmark -- the return of a Coca-Cola neon sign to downtown Atlanta after an absence of more than 20 years.
Just two days before the Company's 117th birthday, Doug Daft, chairman of The Coca-Cola Company, Lowry Kline, chairman of bottler Coca-Cola Enterprises, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin lit a retro version of the famous landmark.
An Icon Returns
For nearly 50 years, a Coca-Cola sign had been a meeting point for Atlanta. From 1932 to 1981, a Coca-Cola Spectacular sign hung in Margaret Mitchell Square at the intersection of Peachtree Street and Pryor Street. The new sign hangs atop the Olympia building at 22 Peachtree Street, near Atlanta's Woodruff Park and Five Points district (where World of Coca-Cola is located).
The new Atlanta sign is the only "retro-style" structure Coca-Cola has designed anywhere in the world. The sign has much of the same design as the neon spectacular that was in place from 1948 to 1981, with a circular, 33-foot diameter face covered in neon lights, featuring nine-foot tall, 28-feet wide Coca-Cola lettering. The sign contains more than a mile of red neon, and more than 10,280 bulbs. The design also includes a message board and a time and temperature board.
A Landmark for the City of Atlanta
Coca-Cola advertising has been a part of Atlanta since 1886, but few examples were as visible or well known as the series of signs in Margaret Mitchell Square. The sign became a well-known landmark for the downtown Atlanta area, and even served as the backdrop to annual New Year's Eve celebrations.
The old sign underwent various upgrades and changes throughout its life. The original (circa 1932-1938) was a three-part sign featuring a nine-foot-high neon trademark, a billboard that changed out monthly and a motograph -- an electric sign using light bulbs to create letters in order to relay news of current events.
The original sign was replaced in 1938 with one that displayed snowflakes, raindrops, clouds or sunrays to forecast the next day's weather. This sign was dismantled in 1941 to make way for a new building on site. During World War II, with building materials scarce, Coca-Cola used an existing sign featuring S&W Cafeteria to advertise Coca-Cola at Margaret Mitchell Square.
In 1948 work was completed on the Coca-Cola "Neon Spectacular" sign, as it was called. The sign was 48 feet tall and 33 feet wide, featuring a 28-foot-wide trademark as well as a 44-foot-tall thermometer (the first of its kind featured on a neon spectacular).
In 1965, the thermometer was replaced by a digital temperature display; at the same time, the horizontal neon background was changed to a pinwheel design.
In Good Company
The 2003 version of the Coca-Cola Spectacular was developed by Peachtree City, Georgia-based Art Productions Inc., which has worked on a number of other projects for The Coca-Cola Company, including the giant Coca-Cola bottle at Boston's Fenway Park. Construction of the Atlanta sign and the components took four months, and installation at the site took six weeks.
Atlanta's new structure is the latest addition to a distinguished list of Coca-Cola Neon Spectacular signs prominently displayed in some of the largest cities in the world, including Piccadilly Circus in London and Times Square in New York.