Guest editorial by Daniel Soderberg
The Kensington sign is a classic icon of a bye-gone era. It speaks of the days of T-Birds and Corvettes. Elvis and James Dean. Ike and Sputnik. It is a product of an era and design philosophy “form follows function.” Elegance through simplicity. Color and luminance pointing to hope and optimism.
The community of Kensington is rich with design elements and architecture from many different periods. But the neon sign is their best mid-century cultural art. It is original, historic and should be preserved.
But there is a problem. The sign was destructively taken apart and rendered unusable. One has to wonder how in the world this was allowed to happen? We were told: “The Kensington Talmadge Community Association attended a DAS to receive direction regarding the appropriate handling of the neon sign. The sign is in the process of being rehabilitated and should be reinstalled in the near future.” (DAS refers to the Design Asssistance Subcommittee of the city’s Historical Resources Board, which advised the association on how to handle the sign.)
What part of the story are we missing here? Why weren’t the standards set by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for the treatment of historic property followed?
Turning this landmark into salvage waste and offering an amusement park sign in its place is horrible. Look at that proposal. Rock columns – imitations of familiar ones. But where do you ever see street lights stacked way up on top like that? Street lights towering there is completely out of any normal context or expectation. And it detracts from the sign itself. That’s not form following any function. It is cake decorating!
Then the graceful old floating sign hung by cables is to be replaced by a bulky truss bridge. Elegant simplicity giving way to overkill. If this proposal becomes reality it will be a cruel injustice to a magnificent historic landmark.
My voice is not of one from within Kensington. I live in Normal Heights. But I’ve heard the same sentiment here for doing exactly what is happening in Kensington: To haul our sign off to the dump and construct another ostentatious Vegas-style replacement. Believe me, many folks here are watching to see what happens over there. Then San Diego will have no original neighborhood neon signs. And that is inexcusable.
My love and appreciation for these landmarks is demonstrated in a film I made, called “Save The Kensington Sign!” Just type in that title on www.YouTube.com to watch.