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Watching over diversity: A brief history of the 'Hillcrest' sign

The Hillcrest sign has been a welcoming salutation to the neighborhood for almost 80 years.
Photo credit:
Hillcrest sign getting a make-over a few years ago - HBA

The Hillcrest sign which greets visitors into the neighborhood high above the intersection of Fifth and University has been a beacon of diversity since it was first erected in 1940.

It was a gift from local women shopkeepers.

The 21-foot long art deco-inspired community symbol wasn’t always the bright beam of spirit it is today. In fact the first sign was only hand-painted without any of the illuminating flair that now lights up the night. 

In its first year, the sign was supported by large wooden beams on either side, but City councilmember Fred Simpson and community members felt the supports were unsightly and they were replaced by steel beams.

It wasn’t until 44 years later in June of 1984 that the weatherworn sign would be removed from its perch and given a complete make-over.

It was during this overhaul that the sign was actually rebuilt and given added flashiness with 240-feet of pink neon tubing.

Two months later, Mayor Roger Hedgecock and  other city officials along with a mass of people gathered in the street to unveil the re-modeled landmark with its pink neon luminance.

The event would last throughout the evening and would soon give way to the annual block party we know today as CityFest.

In 2009, the sign was given a fresh coat of paint just in time for the CityFest that year. Heavy fog caused the colors to bleed, creating an ominous effect, but Diversity Painting came to the rescue and fixed the problem before the kick-off.

The celebration began at noon in August 2009 and that night to celebrate its 25th anniversary the Hillcrest sign dazzled onlookers with fireworks as it was re-lit in pink neon.

Two years later the sign was taken down for good, replaced by one with modern technology. Gone were the pink neon fixtures, replaced by white LED bulbs.

On August 14 of that same year, councilmember Todd Gloria unveiled the glowing replica kicking off another CityFest.

The old sign was sent to storage, but was soon re-hung in the now shuttered Obelisk Mercantile building until that store closed in 2015.

Executive Director of the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA),Benjamin Nicholls holds the Hillcrest sign in great reverence and says it sends a message of pride to other districts.

"The Hillcrest sign is a symbol of the neighborhood that is known throughout the City," said Nicholls. "It represents all the best of urban life.  Diversity, food, culture, tolerance, art and so much more.  We are happy to be stewards of the sign."

Bottom two sidebar pictures courtesy of HillQuest