The Whole Story Behind the OB Peace Sign

by on December 3, 2020 · 3 comments

in Ocean Beach

“Peace Rocks” or . . . . “Signs of the Times”

Editordude: The following exclusive is the whole backstory behind the OB Peace Sign by one of the peace rockers who helped install it in 2007 on Bird Shit Rock off Sunset Cliffs. Thirteen years later, it still sits atop the old OB hotel, presiding over Newport Avenue. 

by Johnny Peace Rocker / December 3, 2020

A few days ago a friend sent me a news clipping about the mysterious nine-and-a-half foot tall “Monolith” that was recently discovered in the red canyons of southeast Utah. The Monolith–installed anonymously on government land without publicity or attribution to any artist or group–appears to be made of stainless steel, riveted together into the shape of a triangular prism, resembling the monolith from the classic Kubrick 1968 sci-fi film: 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Anyway, there’s a great story there about the mysterious Utah monolith. A few days later, it mysteriously disappeared. Then another one just turned up in Romania. Go figure! The story is still unfolding, and I encourage you to go read up on it further. But that is not the story I am here to tell.

Instead, I tell today a similar story about which I have some personal knowledge . . . a story of a series of three stunningly beautiful, six-foot, stained glass PEACE SIGNS (each one commissioned at a cost of about $5,000) that appeared–mysteriously and anonymously — on rocks off the California coastline between 2006 and 2007 . . . the first one on this particular rock, located about a mile from my house near Sunset Cliffs in San Diego. The rock is maybe 50-100 feet off shore, stands about 50-60 feet tall, and was known locally, for years, as Bird Shit Rock (in answer to La Jolla’s better-known Bird Rock).

Now, in the 40 years that I have lived in Ocean Beach, this rock has been the site of six or eight “guerilla” art installations . . . sculptures or whatnot that have just appeared on the rock, overnight, anonymously, with no one ever taking public credit for them.

There was a wonderful big red crab, a Tiki-Man (a man made out of tiki torches), a Christmas tree one December, a toilet once (not the most creative and not my favorite), and I forget what else. In each instance the installation would surprise and delight the local community, would exist on the rock for a month or three or four, and would get removed or washed away in due course. And the rock would then sit “naked” for months or even years until one day another piece of art would mysteriously and anonymously appear. I have no clue if these were coordinated projects by one local group, or each one a “one-off” by whomever had the idea.

In any event, sometime in 2005, there appeared overnight — in typical mysterious, anonymous manner– a fabulous PVC-pipe-and-canvas-constructed pterodactyl, six or eight feet height, poised as if ready to dive into the ocean for dinner. I don’t have a picture of it in full glory, but I loved it, and would admire it most every day, running past it. . . that is, I loved it until some big winter storm came and blew the pterodactyl to shreds. And there it lingered, day after day, week after week, and I would run past it and think . . . I loved that installation, but now that it has blown apart it has become an eyesore, and whoever put it up ought to clean it up for the community.

Well, no one ever did . . . and so I got to thinking . . . .  Hey, that rock belongs to whomever has a good idea and can figure how to get up there. So I recruited a few friends who helped me plan (and bankroll) the first of what became three Peace Rocks projects along the California coast.

Peace Rock, Sunset Cliffs – Point Loma, California

First, I recruited a stained glass artisan (Matt) and commissioned a magnificent, six-foot, 80-pound, stained glass peace sign (colors designed by my fabulous artist wife).

Then I rounded up a few rock climber buddies, an engineer, and a few others and, at about 1:00 a.m. on a proper low-tide night we assaulted the rock with ropes, a portable generator, and sufficient equipment to install our peace sign safely atop Bird Shit Rock.

The project took three or four hours of hard and fairly dangerous work (first just getting the peace sign safely to the top of the rock, then drilling into the rock to secure our “mount” with safety wires).

But just as dawn was starting to break at about 5:30 a.m. it was Mission Accomplished . . . and we able to clear out our equipment and disappear just as the very first surfers and early-morning walkers were starting their pilgrimage to the Cliffs.

The result–which greeted the community that morning in typical anonymous, guerilla fashion–was stunning.

The installation got a lot of positive press for a few days, and it seemed from all the people gathering at what soon came to be known as PEACE ROCK–such a better name than Bird Shit Rock–that it struck the inspirational chord we were looking for . . . .

We even engineered the peace sign with LED lights and a solar powered battery that we affixed to the rock with a timer so the peace sign would LIGHT UP at night . . . and we were all so excited that first night when it actually WORKED and LIT UP and it was the Coolest Thing Ever, this peace sign just surreal in the darkness, seemingly floating 50 or 60 feet in the air, in the blackness of night.

Until it got really dark and we realized it made for any lawyer would call an “attractive nuisance” . . . a very real danger that beckoned onlookers to the unprotected cliff edge, which falls about 50 feet to the surf below . . . . So we stayed out late that first night to warn people off and then, the next night, scaled the rock again and disconnected the lights. Whew! But it sure was cool that one night for the small handful of people who got to see it.

The peace sign graced Peace Rock for about a year-and-a-half, and I–and many others in the community, I think–would have loved it if it became a permanent installation.

But alas, one night it was . . . you guessed it . . . it was STOLEN . . . in the middle of the night.


Well, that was that . . . but it was so much fun, and it was such a wonderful piece of our community (peace of our community?) that we started looking for other venues and locales where we could recreate the magic.

Santa Cruz, California

So it was in October of 2006, we took the show on the road to Santa Cruz, where a local surfer friend thought there was a good rock candidate.

My wife designed and Matt built another beautiful, six-foot, 80-pound stained glass peace sign and we headed off to Santa Cruz with a few of the climbing buddies who had helped install the Ocean Beach sign.

Again, we made the assault at about 1:00 a.m., and this installation was almost impossible, the tide was so high and the waves pounding the rock so hard. But again, about 5:00 a.m., it was a SUCCESS, and the next morning Santa Cruz woke to another very cool peace sign that appeared mysteriously and anonymously just off shore.

Like the guilty driver who returns to the scent of the hit-and-run, we hung out by the rock all day, listening in to people’s theories of how it got there and what it was made of and what was the “message” (hint: PEACE!), and it was just a really fun adventure with a very successful outcome . . .

Until about two weeks later when a larger-than-expected winter storm hit and . . . alas our big beautiful sign got thrashed away. Poseidon had spoken!

And yes, we felt bad about the glass and metal litter into the ocean, which we simply had not anticipated. But that was that. A very cool monument. But it only lived a few weeks.

Big Sur

Not to be deterred, in December of 2006, we took another road trip to Big Sur, where we had scouted what we thought would be another good site . . . one that would not get pounded by even the highest surf. Matt built us another unique, stunning stained glass peace sign, which he then drove up to Big Sur while the installation team flew up to San Jose, rented a car, and drove to Big Sur for the install.

The spot we picked was at the end of some fairly remote coastal hike, so we did a dawn installation instead of an overnighter. It was still quite a challenge getting the peace sign across the channel and safely up the rock . . . .

But we persevered, completed the installation without anyone seeing us, and melted back into the morning, proud once again of our handiwork, knowing it would be discovered sometime soon by the locals, and that the same questions would arise–who did this, why, when, what’s it all mean . . . ?

Before we left the area we made contact with one friendly local family and let them in on our secret, just so we could monitor the local reception.

Alas, what we learned was that, only a few days later, some Big Sur Coastal Ranger apparently came upon it and . . . whoosh . . . it was gone, never to be seen or heard of again.

Still a fun adventure, but this one, I’m sorry to say, kinda fell flat and got me re-thinking this guerilla approach to public art . . . it was a rush, and I loved what we did and the message we left behind . . . but these installations were becoming expensive, especially with travel expenses, and if the peace signs could be stolen, or washed away, or confiscated by some public agency . . . well, I needed another plan . . . .

Ocean Beach, California

So, Matt built us one more six-foot beauty, and I went looking in Ocean Beach–the most perfect beach community in the Universe–where I could install a permanent peace sign on private property, but playing publicly to the entire community.

And I settled upon the perfect spot . . . the International Hostel, in the middle of the middle block of Newport Avenue, on the south side of the street (so the sun would pass behind the stained glass). I approached the then-owner, John Asher, told him the Peace Rocks story, and obtained his permission (and enthusiastic support) to install the peace sign atop the building . . . where it has been now for more than 13 years.

And there, thirteen years later, the Ocean Beach peace sign still presides over Newport Avenue.

The International Hostel has changed owners a few times, and has been re-painted several times, but the peace sign remains, stunning in the sunshine, lit up every night, and reminding all who gaze upon it to strive, in all endeavors and in all relationship to seek solutions, to pursue compromise, and to always pray for PEACE!

And that’s the story of the Ocean Beach Peace Rockers, as told to you by . . . Johnny Peace Rocker. Special thanks to Eve (always), to Kevin, to Brant, to Matt, to Christiaan, to Ruth, to Monty, to Ward, and to everyone else who helped make this peace project possible.

Peace, out.

Johnny Peace Rocker 12.3.20


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Marilyn December 3, 2020 at 7:13 pm

Wonderful, but I don’t recall any coverage on the plastic pink flamingos in the flood control channel. They were there about a week in 1980ish.
The flamingos were installed in the middle of the night, I’ve heard. Someone rowed out and did the deed.
Then they disappeared.


Doug Blackwood December 3, 2020 at 8:48 pm

Its a great story! I regularly surfed Osprey during that time, & loved seeing the “Peace Sign; whether in the water, or in the lot. The symbolism; as a Vietnam Vet against the war, had a great meaning to me: massive demonstrations helped end that boondoggle war.
The creative aspect, and committed action for “art”, is a beautiful thing!
Environmentally, not such much: the Mother Ocean keeps us alive; lets protect her!


Raun Davis October 21, 2023 at 2:37 pm

I miss it, and always tell friends when they visit about the peace sign on Sunset Cliffs. I wish it was still there every time I walk to drive the cliffs.


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