Hillcrest LED Sign
Don’t get them wrong, the jury honors and respects the intent of this renovation, along with the impassioned defense offered online by the Hillcrest Business Association. O&O jurors are typically especially appreciative and attentive when an Onion nominee steps forward to explain their process and actions. In era of declining resources, replacing the neon with L.E.D. will reduce energy usage by close to 80% and they applaud that, too. What is less praise-worthy is the lack of respect for history, the exclusion of the larger community in the discussion, the failure to consider alternatives – there are these remarkable things they call “solar panels” after all – and, most of all, the unfortunate visual result. When lit at night, the new sign not only bears no resemblance to the original icon – but it is garish and, well… ugly. As one jury member put it: “they will change it back in a few years and at that point it will be deserving of an Orchid.” One can only hope that happens sooner rather than later . . .
- Project Address: 5th and University in Hillcrest
- Project Owner/ Developer: Hillcrest BIA
- Owner Contact Name/ Email: Ben Nicholls <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The new Hillcrest neighborhood sign was unveiled at the 2011 City Fest. It was greeted with much fanfare and praise. "Green Technology" had come to Hillcrest. Low energy costs and repair. Sounded wonderful. But then the switch was flipped. Gone was the warm, rich, and beautiful glow of the pink rose neon tubing. Instead we got a harsh glaring blue/white light. "Oh, you'll get used to it," proponents said. People get used to potholes in San Diego, but it doesn't mean we prefer them to smooth streets. But the visual unpleasantness of the new sign is only one aspect of why it deserves an Onion. A decision was made concerning a historical resource by not seeking due process before the Historical Resources Board. HRB has reviewed other signs before including the Kensington Sign. Why not the Hillcrest sign? Those of us who would have participated in public discussion of the sign's fate would have liked to have had the opportunity to do so. This new sign was really sprung on San Diego in a very surprising way. The original Hillcrest sign was built in 1940, some 70 years ago. It is one of Hillcrest's best examples of Streamline Moderne era sign artisan ship. Although it was taken down for refurbishing in 1984, the rehab was done along Secretary of Interior Standards--all like materials were used to preserve the historic appearance. This was not the case in 2011. Glass tubing was replaced by plastic. The night time glow of LED casts a different quality and character of light. But the plastic tubing also looks non historic in the daylight as well. It introduces a non-historic a tan or brownish color to the sign. Also different is the way the LED tubing is so closely mounted to the sign surface. Neon tubing was set more apart from the surface, and therefore produced a very different "floating" visual effect. Also the bright shiny metal clips and framing attaching the LED tubing is yet another added non historic visual element. Replacing the old sign was justified by saying it was no longer affordable to keep it lit and repaired. Interestingly in the bracing discussion concerning the Kensington Sign in 2009, the LED vs Neon discussion was not one that lasted very long. Everyone recognized neon's superior and irreplaceable richness of color and light was worth the exta cost. Nicer things do sometimes cost more. Clearly saving money is not always the smart choice. In terms of "going green" yes the electric bill may go down some with LED. But neon to begin with is already classified as a low energy light source. Being that historic neon is now very rare in San Diego why can't we allow what remains to live on without the threat of "progress?" People love neon because of its historic look and warm character. Certainly we can save our planet, go green, and save our historical resources at the same time. And recognize the value of an investment from the richness of its return both culturally and aesthetically.