August 1983 ~ The long-dark Hillcrest sign is taken down for repairs. Volunteers organize to raise over $4,000 for restoration of the neon sign ($670 is donated at the first fundraiser held at the Brass Rail).
August 26, 1984 ~ The official lighting of the sign is held with Mayor Roger Hedgecock aiding locals Gene Coster and Lucy Killea to pull the switch. Vendors set up on the closed streets around the corner of Fifth and University. The celebration of festivities lasted till after 10pm with an attendance of about 3,000.
May 1985 ~ Tony Kopas and Bob Walker organize the first (and only two-day) “CityFest” with the help of the Hillcrest Association over Mother’s Day weekend. Bob, owner of The Gallery Store, organizes a juried art show, drawing a crowd of about 30,000. Active participants filled Fifth Avenue (north of Robinson) with many expressing themselves with paintbrushes on the street. The following day the painted streets make the front page of the Union-Tribune, unfortunately the Hillcrest Association is responsible for the costly paint removal ($1,642 according to Steve Zolezzi, HBA president).
August 1985 ~ HBA cancels the street fair which would have marked the first anniversary of the new sign’s lighting. “We’re just burned out,” said Joyce Beers, the association’s executive director. Following this decision, an ad hoc committee lead by several gay leaders was organized, and they successfully throw another great street fair to celebrate community pride. Entertainers included jazz singer Ella Ruth Piggee and Sue Palmer’s Tobacco Road.
August 1986 ~ The Hillcrest Association returns as CityFest sponsor with a cadre of volunteers. HBA President Carol Arko (co-owner of the Brass Rail and Number One Fifth Avenue) and Executive Director Chris Kehoe are co-chairs of this year’s event. Attendance is about 10,000.
August 1990 ~ After several years of continuous growth CityFest departs from underneath the Hillcrest sign. Concerns for emergency traffic access along University Avenue force CityFest to be relocated entirely along Fifth Avenue. HBA organizes a wine tasting event. 35,000 attend.
August 1991 ~ CityFest’s low year. Attendance drops to 30,000 while hired promoters lead the event into red ink for the second year.
August 1992 ~ Successive years of financial loss threaten to end CityFest, but an increased volunteer effort lead by Chair Cindy Lehman puts on the event for 35,000 people bringing the bottom line back into the black.
August 2-3, 1994 ~ The sign is repainted and glass artist Christopher Lee adds finials of green glass balls capped with aluminum cones on the supporting poles as a public art project.
August 1994 ~ CityFest expands with a second stage at Fifth and Brookes and 175 volunteers. Attendance reaches 55,000.
August 1995 ~ Performers include the Del Rubio Triplets. The event draws 66,000.
August 1997 ~ Juried art show is held under a cavernous tent at Fifth and Pennsylvania. The drum group Sol e Mar leads a samba line that snakes through the village streets. A record 103,500 attend the streetfair.
July 2003 ~ On a balmy weekday night the faded sign — note the difference — is spruced up by Bay Cal Painting using the same paint as in 1994 (Amershield bright red). HBA Executive Director Warren Simon and longtime board member Ann Garwood are interviewed live on the nightly news after taking a trip up in the cherry picker and applying their own paint to the beloved landmark.
August 2003 ~ The 20th anniversary of CityFest brings another record crowd to the streets of Hillcrest — 150,000.
August 8, 2004 ~ This year’s “new idea” — a vintage car show — is discarded a few days before the event because of lack of interest. D.A. and the Hitmen perform at their first CityFest. Another record breaking crowd (170,000) turns out with lots of pets in costumes, but many complain of too many “swap meet” booths.
August 13, 2006 ~ Bring your pet (seems like most everyone is doing it). This year’s “new idea” is a cool VIP cabaret tent, available to the masses for a small charge. (But can you take Rover?)
August 11, 2011~ A brand new $40,000 sign with eco-friendly LED lights was unveiled. The old sign was put up for auction. The winning bid came from Brett Serwalt, owner of Obelisk Books. The book store, destroyed by fire in July 2011 was re-opened a few doors down at 1037 University Avenue where Brett proudly displays the pink, neon sign.