During the Kensington Talmadge Planning Group meeting on the evening of Wednesday, June 10th, one of the planning group board members observed that, while he had donated $100 toward the sign fund, he did not have an eye to aesthetics and so did not care which sign design was chosen. However, he invoked James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and their Federalist Papers, in which these Founding Fathers warned against the “tyranny of the majority,” which if allowed too much power, would trample of the rights of the minority. It was his opinion that anyone should be allowed to nominate something as historic without being demonized for it.
I also donated $100 to the sign fund, after having been presented with a false dilemma of choosing between one new sign design and another new sign design. I wondered at the time why there was not a third option for retaining the original 1954 sign. But the only information provided by Harold Koenig and the Kensington Talmadge Community Association (the custodians of the sign) in the letter that accompanied the donation request was that the KTCA had received a grant from County Supervisor Ron Roberts “to replace our historic Kensington sign that is a symbol of the identity and pride we feel for our special community.” The letter went on to say that the neon letters are frequently out and they have spent several thousand dollars to keep it lit. There was no mention of the history of the sign, the identity of those who bought and paid for it originally, or any mention of the possibility of the paint containing lead or the cable suspension system posing a safety hazard. All that would come later.
A resident concerned with the loss of this marvelous specimen of mid-century neon signage undertook the effort to research the sign’s origins and submitted the resulting report to the City’s Historical Resources Board to consider the sign as a possible designated historical resource. The Board met, and voted unanimously, 7-0, with 1 recused and the Chairman expressing surprise that the sign was not already a designated historical resource. Several HRB members commented on the uniqueness of the sign, and part of the sign’s appeal is in the way it “floats” over Adams Avenue. The Kensington sign and the Normal Heights signs were the only two remaining original community signs in San Diego; the rest are replications or new signs.
The nomination report told us that, in 1952, the residents of Kensington, led by the now-defunct Kensington Park Business Association, began to hold a series of bake sales, car washes and Christmas parties to raise money for a community sign to hang over Adams Avenue. In 1954, the annual community Christmas party in the park included dancing in the streets, Christmas caroling, the crowning of the Queen of Kensington, and the unveiling of the new sign, built by San Diego NEON Sign Company for $1,106.81.
The sign hung, undisturbed, until it was taken down in 1990 for maintenance. When it was rehung, the cabling may not have been secured properly, and a large banner was attached underneath to advertise the Memorial Day parade, adding an additional load as well as a sail. In the following week a powerful windstorm pulled the sign loose on one side and it fell into the street. More maintenance was done and the sign restored after a few months to its rightful place. It remained there until last October.
Much misinformation has been distributed about the sign’s condition and the safety aspect of hanging it using poles and cables. We learned on June 10th that no test was done to detect lead in the paint, yet for the past year we have heard about the dangers of lead poisoning from the sign’s paint. Regardless of any lead content, the EPA’s standard for stabilizing lead paint is to seal it or paint over it.
A truly independent structural engineer was present at the June 10th meeting. Jim Miller is the President of the San Diego Association of Structural Engineers. He offered several facts , and those were that a) it was safe to rehang the sign using poles and cables, b) the current sign could be reinforced, if necessary to meet current code, and c) the sign, as a designated historical resource, only needed to meet the State’s Historical Building Code. The structural regulations in that code say, “Where no distress is evident, and a complete load path is present, the structure may be assumed adequate by having withstood the test of time if anticipated dead and live loads will not exceed those historically present.” So the KTCA has two options for rehanging the sign: either reinforce it to meet current code, or do nothing and meet the applicable State Historical Building Code.
At the June 10th meeting, the KTCA representative objected to rehanging the sign with cables, insisting that it would be too costly, although no cost comparison with the rigid mount system was offered. An objection was also made to the request by the City HRB staff to have an independent firm provide a design for a cable suspension system, which could then be evaluated for safety and conformance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standard for historic preservation. The KTCA said they could not afford to pay $475 for the report. A resident of the community then offered to pay for the report, and handed over a check for $500.
Bruce Coons from SOHO stepped up to the plate during the original HRB hearing and offered SOHO’s services as custodian of the sign, as they are for the Campus Drive-In majorette sign. This was after the KTCA said that if the sign was designated that they did not want it anymore, and it would be too costly to maintain. Bruce has been ignored, as have been all the offers of help from those who want to see the sign restored and rehung as soon as possible. And the community does want to see its sign returned as soon as possible. That is why I have not asked for my money back.
The sign should be restored or replicated and rehung immediately. It may not be the majority opinion, but it’s the right thing to do.