Our Beloved Beacon

The Hillcrest sign was first erected in 1940 as a gift to the community from an active association of female shopkeepers wanting to promote the neighborhood business area.

  • 240 feet of pink neon tubing
  • Weight: 800 pounds
  • Length: 21 feet
  • Height: 3.5 feet

First supported by large wooden poles, critics protested the unsightly appearance and soon they were replaced by a steel version. City Councilman Fred Simpson complained the poles made the street appear like a “big tree district.”

After a few decades of use the sign fell into disrepair and darkness. According to the San Diego Union (January 28, 1975) a newly formed Hillcrest Merchants Guild had plans to relight it, but HillQuest couldn’t confirm that ever happened. In 1983 it was taken down and rebuilt after neighborhood fundraising events that solidified the community. On August 26, 1984 at 8pm it was relit once more, and everyone was so proud of Hillcrest and what we had accomplished.

Number One Fifth Avenue owner Carol Arko recalls, “When they pulled the switch to light the sign the crowd just roared. Several thousand people crowded onto Fifth and University avenues and both sidewalks all the way to Fourth. Revelers also filled the area around the center of the intersection all the way to Robinson. It was an incredible sight. People sang, cheered and tooted toy horns for almost an hour. Cars on the surrounding streets happily blew their horns, too. All over Hillcrest, it was like New Year’s Eve at Times Square.” The sign’s relighting became the genesis for CityFest.

Ten years later artist Christopher Lee added finials of glass balls and aluminum cones as part of a public art project. In 2003 the sign was repainted just in time for the 20th anniversary of CityFest. The letters, made of white plastic, remained unpainted. These days, the Hillcrest Business Improvement District pays the $67 monthly electric bill for the glowing neon. The inviting sign personifies the neighborhood, reflecting the fun, lively and diverse area that so many San Diegans call home (whether they live here or not.)

First published in HillQuest, an Urban Guide to 92103 & Beyond, volume 5

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