Neon Sign Preservation in Sacramento

A multifaceted approach to preserve Sacramento’s historic signs!

Thank you for your interest regarding the the preservation of neon signs in Sacramento. Currently our focus is neon — but we are concerned for all historic signs in Sacramento. Below is an outline of what we’ve been doing. These signs contribute to our city’s character and are real landmarks that we would like to preserve for future generations to enjoy. While these signs are fun, whimsical, and nostalgic, we consider them historically significant graphic elements in our built environment — and we are quite serious about the task at hand.

Neon ties together all kinds of mid-20th century life in Sacramento: entertainment, culture, food, drink, services. Our remaining signs serve as landmarks and provide a sense of place. These signs, which used to be ubiquitous, are rapidly disappearing — but SacMod and Sac Heritage Inc. are trying to save them in situ.

Preservation of our historic signs is a huge can of worms; there are property rights issues as well as unchartered preservation territory because there are currently no protections in place. Efforts include getting formal protections at the city level, looking at city codes regarding this matter, negotiating one-on-one with sign owners, and conducting campaigns for support and funding.

For various reasons, sometimes the landmark signs get removed. The Center for Sacramento History has many historic Sacramento signs from the past in storage. SacMod has been working on ways by which these historic signs can be brought back into the public view.

If you would like to donate or take an active role in participating in measures to save our historic signs please use the “Get Involved/Join” portion of our site.

Initial Concept + Actions Taken Thus Far

  • Initiated concept and conducted presentations of ideas to other relevant preservation groups in Sacramento;
  • Ongoing meetings to develop action plans with key groups (Sacramento Old City Association; Sacramento Art Deco Society; Sacramento Heritage Inc.; City of Sacramento Preservation Office; Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission; Center for Sacramento History);
  • Celebrating specific signs in MCM home tour guidebooks (2010 + 2013);
  • Writing regular posts on SacMod’s Facebook page
  • Curating Flickr group: “Signs of Sacramento” – hundreds of photographs of local examples. Includes extant, long-gone signs, and historic photos!
  • Assisted Charles Phoenix (nationally known historian, author, and entertainer) by acting as a guide, researcher, and conduit to local experts for his TV pilot project in September 2013.  Dozens of pix from his visit can be seen on Charles’ Facebook page  (see later Sept 2013); You can also hear more about his visit on station KPCC 89.3’s website
  • Monitoring signs that are considered particularly “at risk”;
  • Seeking formal protections at the city ordinance level (asking that signs 50+ years old receive the same protections as structures do);
  • Preparing to fill out historic nominations;
  • Conducting one-on-one negotiations with sign owners;
  • Applying for grants and investigating sources for support and funding for proactive measures;
  • Studying other possible means of relief.

Concept / Rationale / Why this matters

Sacramento’s historic signs are artifacts that provide our city with:

  • character – uniqueness
  • a sense of place
  • public design/art
  • local flavor
  • graphic landmarks
  • a community identity – a collective memory.

Sacramento’s historic signs are:

  • iconic- irreplaceable
  • Americana/roadside attractions
  • nostalgic
  • a link to the past/snapshot in time
  • becoming increasingly rare
  •  tell a story about Sacramento’s region
  • reflect Sacramento’s culture and ethnicity.

Project Goals

  • Raising awareness through education of business owners and general public;
  • Identifying and cataloging surviving examples in need of protection and nominating them for historic landmark status;
  • Establishing an effective mechanism to assist / provide technical assistance for the rehabilitation, restoration, repair, reuse, and maintenance of surviving examples
  • Establishing an effective triage / intervention mechanism for dealing with imminently threatened signs (picking up, crating, transporting, relocating or placing in storage);
  • Encouraging the display of removed signs (including those currently in storage) to a living museum / art walk on a public street / corridor or other agreed upon publicly accessed venue or museum.

How / Ideas / Brainstorming / Approaches

  • Conducting surveys / research; collecting history on surviving examples; updating already historically designated buildings to include their signs; submitting new nominations to register(s).
  • Gathering support from and voluntary pledges by business owners that they will be good stewards of their signs and keep them in place;
  • Conducting public awareness campaigns: petitions; social media posts; walking tours;
  • Developing technical assistance materials and service provider lists for owners;
  • Developing a quick response/triage mechanism to deal with threatened signs;
  • Making recommendations for how signs detached from their original site can be displayed for the community to enjoy;
  • Raising funds (see examples below) to accomplish goals;
  • Evaluating the feasibility of new technologies into the displays

Possible funding sources

  • Grants
  • Donations
  • Underwriting
  • Sponsorships (individual / corporate)
  • Adopt-a-sign
  • Fundraising events
  • Other available local, state and federal support

Case studies: examples of existing programs in other cities