Heritage, Volume 8, Number 3, Summer 1990 Page: 22
The following text was automatically extracted from the image on this page using optical character recognition software:
Left: Typical storefront neon sign of the type often found incompatible within historic areas.V & P Shoe Repair, Roseburg, Oregon, 1988. Center:Action Realty
sign, Nampa, Idaho, 1989. Right: The J-Ville Tavern sign on the Redman Lodge Building in the Jacksonville, Oregon National Historic Landmark district, 1989.
Photos by author, 1989.
designated, many "pre-existing" signs are suddenly determined
"non-conforming" with the approved theme or historic period of
significance. Such signs are frequently disruptive and distracting to
the building behind them and although that appearance may have
been historically accurate it is considered detrimental to the area. As
a result their signs are often removed or come under pressure for
replacement with more appropriate, less visually distracting signage.
This in itself threatens numerous significant sign resources.
Additionally, the adoption of a sign control ordinance that restricts
new designs through the use of standard maximum sign
dimensions or limited construction materials tends to create a
homogeneity that may have little relationship to any actual historic
appearance of the area.
In practice such thematic or temporally biased restoration programs
emphasize the older over the more recent, the first over the
second or third generation appearance of any given resource. This
bias often results in the loss of, for example, an intact 1940s facade
to allow the "restoration" of a fairly commonplace 1900 facade beneath
it. When carried out over an entire district, such programmatic
restoration can only "create" an environment that never existed
in the actual past. Such contrivance is not only a sanitiza-tion
of the past; it is, in the end, the exact sort of "Disneyfication" of a
historic period that preservationists by training normally abhor.
The National Register of Historic Places, the federal government's
inventory of America's built resources, serves as a yardstick
by which virtually all historic and cultural resources are evaluated.
Local jurisdictions frequently adopt criteria based on those of the
National Register for use in determining the significance of their
own local landmarks. The four criteria for eligibility to the National
Register of Historic Places are for districts, sites, buildings,
structures and objects that possess integrity of location, design,
setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association, and that:
a) are associated with events that have made a significant contribution
to the broad patterns of our history; or b) are associated
with the lives of persons significant in our past; or c) embody the
district characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction
or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic
values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity
whose components may lack individual distinction; or d) have
yielded, or may be likely to yield information important in
prehistory or history.
22 HERITAGE * SUMMER 1990
Shed of standard assumptions regarding historic merit and
economics, it is hard to immediately discount signs in general as
potentially significant under any of these four criteria. The rocket
motif advertising Atomic Realty speaks perhaps better than any
building could of the excitement and naive hope of the "Final
Frontier" of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Signs often carry the names, and directly reflect the public persona
of prominent individuals of the business world.5 There is little
doubt that signs offer the potential for significance as design objects
through their use of new materials or technologies. It would
be hard, for example, to dispute that the twin neon "Packard"
signs installed on a Los Angeles auto dealership in 1923, the
earliest documented use of neon in the United States, would merit
recognition simply due to that fact.6 As to criterion d, although
modern commercial signage will hold no potential information
regarding our pre-history it is highly likely that as such fluid
artifacts of our culture they will, assuming any are saved, yield
unknown sorts of information regarding the twentieth-century
American lifestyle to future historians.
Even within our own memory, signs such as the long gone
"Burma Shave" placards or the so-called "Great Sign" of the
Holiday Inn Corporation of America, are coming to be recognized
as cultural icons that speak of particular trends-in this case the
rise of the automobile-within our cultural development. It is not
unreasonable to assume that other currently under-appreciated or
ignored signs will also in time be seen as significant artifacts.
If we accept the possibility that at least some signs are significant
to the degree required for listing in the National Register, and that
even less significant individual signs may collectively play a
dominant role in the maintenance of an historic environment, it
is appropriate to question how the current regulatory view of
signage in historic areas developed. From a professional standpoint
it might be convenient to claim that smaller, less informed city
review panels have proceeded on their own without sanction from
the preservation establishment. Such is not the case. Signage is
singled out as an expendable element within the historic streetscape
by no less an august body than the National Park Service. In
a publication intended to provide general guidelines for the
restoration of historic properties, NPS Technical Services writes:
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 8, Number 3, Summer 1990, periodical, Summer 1990; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45427/m1/22/: accessed January 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.