IPSSA members met for their national meeting in February at the Sheraton Park Hotel on South Harbor Boulevard in Anaheim. Some may have noticed an odd, gaudy sign for Ben-Key Pools just down the street.
If it caught your attention, well, here’s the story…
The Ben-Key Pool sign is an example of a peculiar form of architecture called Googie that once flourished in Southern California beginning in the late 1940s through the mid ’60s. Typical Googie design elements include flying saucers, boomerangs, amoeba shapes, and other symbols of the Atomic Age. This pool store sign, for example, features a starburst on top. That’s classic Googie.
Anaheim, in particular, was rather enamored with this sci-fi inspired aesthetic as many motels, hotels and gas stations attracted motorists with neon atoms and rockets. This futuristic style wasn’t limited to signage. Many buildings looked like something out of The Jetsons. There’s even a park in Anaheim modeled after a moonscape.
At some point the city decided to banish these Space Age beacons in the Disneyland resort district in favor of more subtle, boring signs. Thankfully, the Ben-Key Pools sign still stands. It’s a little rusty and it probably hasn’t been lit up in years. But it still has its fans. It’s featured on blogs devoted to these kinds of kitschy-cool roadside signs.
As for the pool store itself, it’s long gone. It’s nothing more than a parking lot with an abandoned swimming pool that sits directly below the sign. The store shared the same lot with the Anaheim Overnight Trailer Park, both owned by William A. Behnke. Ben-Key Pools is a play on his name. And, yes, that’s a bent key on the sign. (It works on so many levels.) Seeing how this was both an RV park and a pool store with a fully functioning swimming pool, I wonder if overnight guests were allowed to take a dip.
Behnke passed away in March 13, 1973 in Newport Beach. It’s unclear when exactly the pool store shuttered, but I’m told it was doing business well into the '90s.
Though Anaheim put the kibosh on kitsch, at least one sign remains.
I’m a glad it belonged to a pool store.
Special thanks to local Googie expert Jane K. Newell, heritage services manager at the MUZEO in Anaheim.
Off the Deep End is an occasional blog from PSN Senior Editor Nate Traylor.