Hillcrest Sign San Diego

The old Hillcrest sign is gone, but not forgotten

  • First erected in 1940 as a gift to the community from a group neighborhood female shopkeepers
  • Taken down for “refurbishment” in 1984 (it was actually exactly rebuilt)
  • Relit at 8pm on August 16, 1984
  • 240 feet of pink neon tubing
  • Monthly electric cost is $65
  • Supporting poles were 75′ tall with 35′ underground
  • Weight is 800 pounds
  • 21 feet long
  • 3.5 feet tall
  • Letters are made of white plastic
  • The red metal sign was repainted the night of July 10-11th in 2003
  • Repainted again on August 4, 2009 in time for a 25th anniversary rededication

The sign was first supported by large wooden columns which were shortly replaced by steel columns after letters protested their unsightly appearance. City Councilmember Fred Simpson observed during the sign’s first year that the wooden poles made the street appear like “a big tree district.”

After several years of disrepair and darkness, the sign was taken down for “refurbishing” on Thursday, June 7, 1984 — in reality, it was rebuilt. Two months later on August 16, Gene Coster (owner of Quel Fromage) and local politico Lucy Killea joined Mayor Roger Hedgecock for the relighting celebration. As Hedgecock prepared to pull the switch an unarmed man shouted, “I’m going to kill you. You’re not turning the light on.” He was removed by police.

Hillcrest Sign before finials were added to the tops of poles

The neighborhood party celebrating the new sign filled the Hillcrest streets lasting for hours. The relighting became the genesis for the (now annual) CityFest street fairs.

Two 55-foot poles donated by SDG&E in 1984 still support the sign. The lower 15 feet of each pole was sunk into a 3,200 pound cement foundation. Companies volunteering their services: Sklat (neon), Coastal Rigging, Dave’s Electric, Montroy Supply, Anderson Drilling, Con Rock cement, the San Diego Chapter of NECA, IBEW, Sheetmetal Metal Workers Local 206, Sign Painters & Pictorial Artists Los Angeles Local 831 and Pacific Sign Construction of Chula Vista. Big thanks to the California Neon Company which rebuilt the entire sign.

Ten years later (in 1994) artist Christopher Lee added finials of glass balls and aluminum cones as part of a Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) public art project.

Hillcrest sign repainting in 2003
The photo above shows longtime HBA executive director Warren Simon with boardmember Ann Garwood as the two conducted a TV interview from the lift during the 2003 repainting.

In August of 2009 just in time for the 25th anniversary of its relighting at CityFest, the HBA arranged to have the sign again repainted, but this time the fog rolled in overnight leaving the sign’s red paint dripping through the white letters — actually it was kind of scary looking, but Diversity Painting returned to finish the job on the Friday night before CityFest.

In thHillcrest Business Assocation board members and director Benjamin Nicholls on Tuesday, August e photo at the left, several members of the Hillcrest Business Association (Steve Moore, Nancy Moors, Mike Wright, Ann Garwood & Ron Baranov) joined HBA executive director Benjamin Nicholls (right) for a ride in the lift for an up-close look on 8/4/09.


On the night of Sunday, August 9, 2009 fireworks were shot off over the Hillcrest sign as it was lit on the 25th anniversary of the original relighting of the neighborhood beacon. For the first time CityFest began at noon and continued into the night as neighbors and friends came to Hillcrest to party and celebrate the silver anniversary of the re-lighting of the iconic pink neon sign. CityFest 2009 again closed University Avenue between Fourth and Fifth avenues for the first time since 1987 and set up a grand stage and sound system at the corner of Fifth & University as emcee and vocalist Laura Jane entertained the masses and introduced a line-up of new entertainment that dazzled the swaying crowds as they danced in the street.


Hillcrest has a new sign with LED lights

On Wednesday, August 10, 2011 the 1984 sign was lowered for removal as the proud beacon which was the genesis for CityFest was replaced with a new sign featuring LED technology. A crew from Sign Tech worked to disconnect and retire the old sign. Then the replica was lifted to its new home above the heart of Hillcrest at Fifth & University and covered until its unveiling at CityFest on Sunday, August 14 (at 8pm) when Councilmember Todd Gloria will throw the switch and once again light the Hillcrest sign for our community. The old pink neon sign was put in storage until 2013 when it was installed along the east wall of the new Obelisk at 1029 University Avenue. Stop by and enjoy!

(All photos were taken by Hillcrest resident Ann Garwood or by HillQuest.com.)