SAN DIEGO -- Hillcrest is about to get a little bit brighter again. The iconic neighborhood sign that has hung over University Avenue near Fifth Avenue for decades was replaced early today with a new sign that includes LED technology.
Crews worked during the wee hours this morning to install the new $40,000 sign in time for a re-lighting ceremony Sunday during the 27th annual Hillcrest CityFest event.
The sign is owned and maintained by the Hillcrest Business Improvement Association (HBIA).
While few people made it out to the corner of Fifth and University early this morning to watch the switch-out, many in the community are looking forward to seeing the sign lit again, as the old sign had been dark for nearly a year.
"The Hillcrest sign is a major landmark for our community," downtown resident Joseph Sims said. "The new sign is fantastic and I love the fact that it's now LED, which will require less maintenance. Let's face it, the old sign was always needing repairs so this is a very smart move! Cheers to an 'old' friend and her 'new' look!"
The sign has been a prominent symbol of not only the Hillcrest community, but the LGBT community that has called the neighborhood home for many years.
Hundreds of photographs, videos and documentaries over the years have included the image of the sign, which has also served as a gathering point for the community.
'[The sign] has become known to be a gathering place for the LGBT community [and] the straight community," Nancy Moors of the Hillcrest History Guild told Channel 10 News. "People from all over San Diego come to celebrate the feel of Hillcrest."
According to HillQuest, the first Hillcrest sign was erected in 1940 as a gift to the community from a group of female shopkeepers in the neighborhood. The original sign was located a few feet west of the current location and was supported by large wooden columns, which were replaced by steel columns shortly after community members protested their unsightly appearance.
Then City Councilmember Fred Simpson said that the sign's original wooden poles made the street appear like "a big tree district."
Eventually, the original sign went into disrepair and sat dark for many years. In 1984, the sign was taken down to be rebuilt and the new version, which included 240 feet of pink neon tubing, was re-lit at 8 pm Aug. 16, 1984. SDG&E donated the two 55-foot red poles that continue to support the sign, and in 1994, artist Christopher Lee added glass balls and aluminum cones to the top of the poles as part of a HBIA public art project.
After Mayor Roger Hedgecock flipped the switch to relight the sign, a party celebrating the refurbished community landmark filled the surrounding streets for hours, which became the genesis for the annual Hillcrest CityFest, an event that now attracts over 150,000 people to the neighborhood each August.
The sign was repainted in July 2003 and again in August 2009 in preparation for the 25th anniversary rededication at that year's CityFest, which included a fireworks display off of the sign.
Cecelia Moreno, owner of Crest Cafe and chair of HBIA's Beautification Committee said that the new sign is part of a package of other community improvements that her organization is working on, including a new lighting project along Fifth Avenue.
"The new sign incorporates LED technology which will be more cost effective to maintain over the years to come," said Moreno who believes that ambient lighting is an important factor in maintaining the pedestrian-friendly atmosphere that exists in Hillcrest. "I am so excited to see the new, brighter sign and the sign post globes be re-lit!"
Moreno noted that the old sign will be put into storage with the hopes if it being displayed in a public place soon.
Community activist Tres Watson is pleased that work has been done to re-light the sign but hopes that it doesn't change the feel of the community landmark.
"I like the idea but hope it doesn't change the character of the sign - it's pretty iconic," said Watson who has posted a photo of the old sign on his website Nightlife City Streets. "The neon is a specific effect that is difficult to duplicate and if it's fundamentally different, it would be disappointing."
Watson and the rest of the community will be able to see how the new sign looks once it is re-lit this Sunday night at 8 pm. City Councilmember Todd Gloria and other community leaders will be on hand to "flip the switch" and bring the corner of Fifth & University back to life.
For more information about Hillcrest CityFest and the sign re-lighting ceremony, click HERE.