Anderson and rap artist “Domino” pose in front of the World Famous VIP Records sign which was given historic landmark status by the Long Beach City Council Thursday night. Photo: Tromaine Ellis.
In a unanimous vote the Long Beach City Council moved the iconic World Famous VIP Records sign one step closer to being a historic landmark in the city as it instructed an ordinance to be prepared to finalize the nearly yearlong process.
The sign, which was famously featured by Snoop Dogg in a music video for his 1993 hit “Who Am I?”, has served as a beacon of community and hip-hop culture in central Long Beach for nearly four decades. Kelvin Anderson, the owner and operator of VIP said the sign, and its logo has helped put Long Beach on the map.
The council’s vote will both start the process of the historic landmark ordinance drafting, but also the restoration of the sign. It will be moved from its original location at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway so it can be restored while a permanent display location can be found for the sign.
“I have traveled all across the country and to a few places overseas and what’s remarkable about that sign is that I can just tell people I’m from Long Beach or ask them if they can name any sites in Long Beach and it’s always the Queen Mary and VIP Records,” Anderson said. “It’s amazing the reaction you get from people when they see this logo.”
Two years ago Anderson listed the sign on Ebay as he contemplated closing the store and saw the sign as a means of making some money off of the legacy that he helped build since the store’s opening in the 1970s. He later took down the Ebay post as he sought to build a relationship with the city as he worked toward a new goal of establishing a hip-hop museum in which he hopes the sign will serve as a centerpiece.
Earlier this year Anderson and the city were at odds over the future of the sign, debating who had a legal right to the sign, and how—if at all—it would be designated as a historic landmark. Anderson and supporters of VIP Records showed up to city hall in March to protest what they believed was the city’s effort to designate the sign against Anderson’s will, a move that would have made it nearly impossible for the sign to be moved or sold without permits from the city.
Emails obtained by the Post show that Sixth District Councilman Dee Andrew’s office sought to block Anderson’s sale of the sign online by forwarding paperwork to the officer representing the LLC that owns the property—Offer Grinwald—the day the story broke that Anderson had listed it on Ebay.
“John Edmond asked me to forward this form to you,” wrote Kimberly Dodson, an administrative analyst in Andrews’ office, in a December 29, 2015 email. “Please fill out and return (ASAP) because the moment you submit it the legal process to protect it can start. The two of you have discussed doing this in the past. Based on the article in this morning’s Press-Telegram, Mr. Anderson will be selling the sign on eBay so in order to preserve it you must submit it today.”
A separate email dated May 3, 2016 from Edmond showed that Andrews’ office was aware of the property owner’s intention to put a 7-11 at the location and that they “may not keep the sign.”
In March 2017, Grinwald wrote a letter noting city representatives reaching out to him to apply for preservation of the sign but asked them to stop the process a few months after initially submitting the paperwork. In the letter, Grinwald said the application had “caused stress” between Anderson and the property owners and asked again to officially withdraw the application.
One day after the community turned out to the mid-March city council meeting Anderson posted a picture of him and Mayor Robert Garcia holding a VIP Records T-shirt announcing they had reached a deal. Last night, that deal culminated with the council’s vote to declare the sign a historic landmark.
Andrews, the man who presides over the district where the sign is located and who earlier this year supplied $80,000 of public money toward the restoration and moving of the sign, agreed that more should and could be done in the future. He lamented that the city did not buy the building, the original location of the record store, that has now been converted to a 7-11, stating that it was one of the city’s “biggest mistakes”.
“There was a building already there and Kelvin started there, and that’s where Kelvin should be,” Andrews said. “So there’s some things we should take under consideration.”
Supporters of VIP have recently called for a boycott off the 7-11.
The future home of the sign is still up in the air as a new 7-11 convenience store is set to open at the current site where the sign is displayed. Anderson has long eyed the vacant property located on the northwest corner across from where VIP Records was previously located, a lot he hopes to build into a hip-hop culture museum. However, Shirin Senegal, vice president of VIP Records branding, said that the group is currently in a bidding war for the property, something she said she hopes the city can help them out with.
“We should not have to run the race with everyone else,” Senegal said. “We should not have to be competing with developers outside of our city when this man built that corner.”
The designation of the sign as historically important, and its eventual placement in some sort of museum or other location to be appreciated, serves as a starting point for recognizing the black experience that so many members of the public and council said needs to be showcased more in Long Beach. Before voting, the mayor and members of the council pledged to continue working with Anderson as he seeks a permanent home for the sign.
Garcia said the designation was long overdue and he challenged the city staff and the council to do a much better job at honoring the black experience in the city as it has not received the accolades that it deserves.
“It should not be lost on us that we have so few historical landmarks that honor first and foremost, the black experience and black Americans in Long Beach,” Garcia said. “Black history goes back extensively and has been a huge part of the development of Long Beach.”
Garcia will on hand at VIP Records Thursday December 21 for a ceremony where Anderson will be presented with a proclamation.
Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz__LB on Twitter.
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