You can still find that first inflammatory sign in the windows of a few homes in north Ocean Beach. Bright green on white, the letter “O” was a peace symbol which eventually changed into a clenched fist; the “B” stood beside it, unpoliticized. The sign’s first appearance indicated “safe houses” in the spirited beach community, according to OB activist Tom Kozden, “If you were being harassed by the police or if you needed a witness or something, you knew you could get help from a house with that sign,” he says, adding that when the sign later became an antidevelopment symbol, “you’d find four or five of them on almost every block.” The political activism which fueled those first signs may have largely evaporated, but the sense of community which they symbolize apparently is on the rise. Since the appearance of teh OB peace sign, community decals have been proliferating.
Ocean Beach also apparently spawned the oldest of these nonpolitical community symbols. Graphic designer Bob Sorben, who runs Nordic Arts on Midway Drive, says he and his brother Rick in 1972 designed the airborne seagull which hovers above the blue and white OB designation; Sorben thinks it even preceded the OB peace sign (although Kozden remembers the chronology differently).
“Before we did our decal, people would just buy the individual letters and put ’em in their car window,” Sorben recalls. “We grew up in Ocean Beach and wanted to do something for the community.” Although the Sorbens at first had trouble convincing merchants to carry the decal, they’ve since sold about 25,000 copies of it, and several OB competitors have sprung up. One is an “OB” designed around a marijuana leaf, produced by The Black, the Newport Avenue head shop. More recently, another local designer produced a more contemporary OB decal featuring a young man surfing, but the shops which carry it say that the seagull is still outselling it by about three to one.
Competition also bit into the sales of the original MB and PB decals produced by the Get It On Shop in Mission Beach, according to Spencer Wold, the owner. Both Wold’s decals, which feature compact orange lowercase letters against a large setting sun, sell for $1.50, but when Citizen’s Western Bank opened at Grand and Ingraham streets in Pacific Beach in January of last year, it began distributing its own PB and MB decals for free. So far, about 10,000 Pacific Beach people and 4000 Mission Beach people have snapped up the bargain, often cutting off the institution’s name at the bottom. Demand from individuals living along the south slope of La Jolla was so heavy that the bank even added a La Jolla version a few months ago. It competes with at least one other La Jolla design, a green wave which breaks over the green-lettered “La” of “La Jolla.”
Even more recently, an Imperial Beach citizen’s group calling itself the Imperial Beach Sunset and Whalewatcher’s Society decided to pump up community pride with a symbol, so about two months ago they printed a yellow and blue bumper sticker (they expect to produce a decal as a spin-off). The most ebullient of the community stickers, the IB sign features a cartoon whale declaring that Imperial Beach is “a whale of a city!” “Imperial Beach has been for so long just the back door of San Diego – but people don’t understand that we love it like that,” says organizer Veronica Guevara.
While the IB group is focusing on its own neighborhood, one Solana Beach resident named Ron Stocks is casting an eye on nearby towns as well. Stocks last week printed up a thousand copies each of Solana Beach and Del Mar decals, for which he commissioned the design. Should they be well received, Stocks envisions expanding his decal production to include Cardiff, Encinitas, and other San Diego communities.