The Mystery Of The Missing (Giant Neon) Hat


A ten-gallon hat taller than a giraffe has been a roadside landmark on Santa Monica’s Lincoln Boulevard for more than forty years, but when the last Arby’s in that city shut down in 2011 the big hat disappeared, despite promises to save the 1969 sign.  That brown Arby’s topper is such an icon that the company petitioned the White House to make it the “national hat.”

The company that owns Arby’s is also the corporate parent of Wendy’s and chose to replace the roast beef with square hamburgers. A quick survey shows that only about five of the giant hats remain in all of Los Angeles county (Hollywood, Canoga Park, Van Nuys, Mission Hills and Reseda) and that scarcity probably helped the city in declaring the sign “meritorious” in 2000, allowing it to remain when other oversized signs with exposed neon and scintillating bulbs had to go.

To avoid a kerfuffle with the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission, the fast food chain offered to donate the sign to the American Sign Museum in Ohio. The museum already has a sign from a shuttered Arby’s in Dallas, but “It’s just a shell.” says museum director Tod Swormstedt, who had made space for Santa Monica’s 24-foot neon wonder in his outdoor pavilion. “The guy just kind of evaporated once it was announced,” says Swormstedt. “He was just trying to make some plan so he could go ahead and do whatever he wanted with the property. There was so much uproar about the sign he had a nice clean package of answers.”

The building was demolished and the new Wendy’s has been open for a couple of weeks. I called a neighboring nail salon to check on the new burger stand and was told that “They have very good food over there” but that the sign was nowhere to be found. A message to Arby’s has not yet been returned but I have a dream that the big guy is resting comfortably in some Arby’s warehouse next to a vat of Horsey sauce waiting for a new home.