Commission Hears Downtown’s Cry, ‘Save Our Signs!’

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For those who missed last month’s Redding Planning Commission meeting, we asked Douglas DeMallie, a Redding senior planner, to explain a recent city staff proposal regarding existing downtown Redding “character” signs, a recommendation approved by the Planning Commission.

Doug, thank you for taking a few minutes to answer our questions.

Q: To start with, could you please summarize the staff proposal?

A number of the large freestanding signs and some building-mounted signs downtown are considered “non-conforming” because they do not comply with current sign regulations in regard to height, size or location. The signs are allowed to continue to exist as is, but they can’t be substantially modified or relocated, as it is the underlying intent of the City’s non-conforming provision of the Zoning Ordinance to eventually eliminate non-conforming uses (signs or otherwise). The proposal relaxes the non-conforming provisions of “downtown character signs” by allowing the refurbishment, reuse or relocation of a non-conforming downtown sign if, in the opinion of the Planning Commission, the sign has historic or graphic value to the community.

Q: What was the impetus behind city staff recommendation of its proposal for the sign-modification provision?

The impetus really came from the downtown groups. The Planning Division is in a process of doing some house-keeping on the Downtown Specific Plan to bring it up to date with recent amendments to the General Plan regarding building heights and residential density, terminology in the Zoning Ordinance, and minor lot development standards. We ran the clean-up by Viva Downtown, Renaissance Redding, and the Downtown Redding Business Association. Their comments included a suggestion to do something to encourage preservation of signs that may represent an era of downtown development and sign design. I don’t know if she would want credit, but I think Michelle Goedert first came up with the thought and provided some helpful research.

Q: Can you think of examples of signs that could be preserved because of this provision?

The Greyhound Bus Depot and Thunderbird Lodge signs are a couple that folks seem interested in maintaining.

Q: Personally, I hated to see the old Safeway sign destroyed, but that’s just me. Can you give examples of bygone Redding signs that might have benefited from this modification?

The Safeway sign is the only one that comes to my mind as well. Removal of such signs usually comes with complete redevelopment of a property (such as the Safeway site). There may have been some 1950s, 60s service station or car dealership signs downtown that would have warranted consideration, but they would have been removed years ago. Bear in mind preservation is voluntary, not mandatory; the Safeway folks expressed a desire to remove the sign.

Q: Is downtown Redding the only place that allows neon signs, and if so, why?

May be a misunderstanding here. Neon signs are not prohibited by the City’s Sign Ordinance. You may be thinking of the Downtown Plan, which prohibits neon signs in the CBD District. We are also proposing to relax that provision by allowing use of neon for accent or special lighting features. Use of neon is encouraged in the Uptown Business District of the Downtown Plan Area.

Q: Is there some way the city could classify some Redding signs as historic, and, therefore, protected — much like a heritage tree?

California law does give cities some latitude in creating local historic registers for purposes of preservation, however, bear in mind preservation ordinances usually mean some degree of surrender of property rights, so there must be a very strong case for historic community value.

Q: Assuming that the restoration of vintage signs could be costly, what incentives are in place to encourage a business to preserve an old sign?

The main incentive lies in the size and amount of signage a parcel is allowed. Most of the signs we are talking about are taller or larger than what the current sign regulations allow, so an owner may consider refurbishing an old, large sign instead of removing it and installing a shorter or smaller new sign that meets current regulations. The Sign Ordinance allots a maximum amount of signage to each property in the City, based upon the size and zoning of the property. In some cases, the existing downtown signs take up all of the property’s allotment precluding additional signage. Another incentive being offered is that if an owner refurbishes a downtown character sign, it will not count toward more than 50% of the property’s total allotment, potentially allowing additional signage. That may or may not be a good thing, depending upon your view of signs.

Q: Anything else you’d like us to know about this topic?

I will share that I also had a nostalgic feeling for that Safeway sign. My dad was an employee of a Safeway store in Oakland and moved our family to Redding in 1963 to work at the Cypress Avenue store. Best thing he ever did for me.

We appreciate your taking the time to enlighten us on this interesting topic, Doug. And I loved the mention of your Safeway sign connection. Very cool. Thank you.

Readers, what Redding signs do you think are worthy of preservation?

Photos and Slideshow by Bruce Greenberg

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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9 Responses

  1. Avatar Ginny says:

    The signs are the character and make up of "old town" Redding, so they should remain. If at sometime they need to be removed do to safety, then that is a different story. Who says that everyone and everything needs to be uniform!

  2. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    This makes me think of films like "The Best Years of Our Lives" and "It's a Wonderful Life" – black and white movies that would show the scope of a downtown area by a collage of unique neon signs. I'm glad that urban renewal will not wipe away all the history and character those old signs bring to downtown.

  3. Avatar Biff says:

    I'm divided over some of the old signs downtown. I like the Lim's sign, the Cascade marquee, but I detest the old hotel signs because I think the old hotels have reached the end of the road. I keep hoping that in time the land values of the old downtown hotels warrant their removal and redevelopment with a better and higher use, and when that day comes, hopefully the signs will go away too. To me, the represent a lost piece of Americana that is better left to the pages of history than smack dab in the middle of Downtown.

  4. Avatar Laurie says:

    Keep 'em ALL, historic and humble! Redding's historic signage is one of the few elements of the past we retain.

    Humble or decayed as they may be, they provide us a foothold in history and an antidote to the blight of the recent trend of what seems almost uniformly hideous design (prefab computer-driven, bland and flashy).

    They're among the few elements of beautiful design and character that remain in our downtown. As Biff says above, they "represent a lost piece of Americana" — but why relegate these gaudy gems to the history books? They may no longer be functional in their original purpose, but they belong on the streets, where they can brighten our days and give us a welcome respite from the bleakness and homogeneity of modern design.

    Doni, I too loved that Safeway sign and the old sweeping manta-ray building facade.

  5. Avatar Kathleen says:

    I agree with Biff. I love the old signs but unfortunately the downtown motels are now used to house a large number of convicted sex offenders making the signs less sentimental to me. I'd love the motels gone from downtown and have residental motels on the outskits of town only. Until that happens women can't feel safe walking around the area.

  6. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    I miss the old Safeway sign too, and I've always been worried we'd lose the Greyhound signs (and the building, for that matter). Every time I walk by it's almost totally empty and I fear it's just a matter of time before it gets shut down.

    I love the old Clover Club sign, I have to admit. When you walk around downtown Arcata, all the old neon signs are still there and it's quite charming. I'd love to see Redding embrace its past like that, but so many landmarks have already been erased.

  7. Avatar Troy Hawkins says:

    I applaud Michelle for her insight and her dedication to downtown.
    Thank you Michelle

  8. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Doni, I too love these old signs in the downtown. I miss the old KRDG neon sign next to the Cascade Theatre on Market Street. Maybe it's in preservation some where.

    The Clover Club sign should also be preserved. The Thunderbird Lodge sign is also dear to me. I worked for the Gunari's in the 60's as a night crerk and used to turn the lodge's sign on and off as well as the no vacancy when we were full.

    My brother, John, was a checker at the old safeway at East and Cypress when that old sign was there. One of his favorite stories was of the day when Bing Crosby came through his checkout counter. The old crooner took a look at his name badge and said,"Hi John". His reply was, "Hi Bing!"

  9. Avatar Janice Powell says:

    Thank you, Michelle Goedert for representing those of us who love downtown Redding for what it was and what it can be!

    I took some photos of neon all around California just last year and love the design and and retro art of neon. I only have a few to add to this slide show — The Tropics, The Capri Motel, Gene's Burgers, and of course the Cascade Theatre! I'll send my pics to you Doni and thanks again for another great article.