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Agua Caliente sign being reviewed for historical significance

Posted: March 2nd, 2012 | News, Top Story |

City reverses decision allowing beer company to paint over sign following signature petition.

The Agua Caliente sign in downtown (Photo by Downtown News)

By Ashley Mackin | Downtown News

A proposed Newcastle beer advertisement over the Agua Caliente sign, located at 1122 Fourth St. in downtown, is raising concerns regarding the sign’s historical significance. When the advertisement was originally proposed and approved last year, a question as to the sign’s historical designation arose from Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO). SOHO has sense joined with the Arts Fist Collective in a campaign to save it.

The Agua Caliente sign was originally created during the days of prohibition, when the production of alcohol was illegal in the United States, yet legal in Tijuana. San Diegans would visit the Agua Caliente racetrack in Tijuana to drink and gamble.

“What happened originally was the Historical Resources Board just bypassed the 45 year rule altogether,” said Enrique Limon, who is spearheading efforts to get the sign historically designated. “Anything that’s been in the public eye for 45 years or greater, which this has, must be submitted to that [Historical Board] regardless of the nature,” he said.

“In this case, they just thought it was going to be an old advertisement,” Limon said. “That’s when we got involved.”

Limon explained that, in conjunction with SOHO and the Art Fist Collective, he began circulating a petition to save the sign. Copies of the signed petitions were then sent to Mayor Jerry Sanders’s and Councilmember Kevin Faulconer’s offices.

As a result, the City Council rescinded the given permission to paint over the sign.

Cathy Winterrowd, principal planner for the City’s Development Services Department, explained why the City did not initially complete a historical review.

“[Centre City Development Corporation] determined the sign to be an advertising display sign in existence since prior to 1983, which constitutes a previously conforming sign under the City’s regulations. The Code allows for a change in display copy for this type of off-premises advertising,” she said.

Winterrowd said the City initially felt the sign was separate from the historical building on which it was painted. “The existing Caliente sign has no association with the historic building and does not itself have historical significance,” she explained of the decision. “No building or other permit was required for this action [and] review of this proposal was required only because it is located on the side of a designated historical building,” she said.

After hearing the public response, Winterrowd said, the City re-evaluated the sign and changed their decision. On Dec. 15, 2011 Winterrowd announced Newcastle no longer had permission to paint over the sign and ordered a Historical Review be conducted.

Now, a Historical Resources Board study must take place to assess the historical value of the sign. Once that occurs, the Historical Resources Board must vote to approve the findings of the study. The study and impending vote could last several months, Limon said. “We’ve made great strides with the petition and all the other efforts, [but] the future of it is a little bit up in the air still,” he said.

SOHO Education and Communications Director Alana Coons said, “Signs are a part of the community. They remain important to us long after their original use as an advertisement. They become landmarks unto themselves, icons that are loved and cared about because they have been visible for long enough that people form a personal connection with them. They mark the passage of time, peoples’ own lives and [their] relationship to a community, just like a historic building does,” Coons said.

On March 23, Art Fist Collective will host a fundraiser to help SOHO preserve the sign. The fundraiser, called “My Little Art Show,” will feature 25 local artists working with My Little Pony figurines at Quality Social, located at 789 Sixth Ave., at 6 p.m.

“The Caliente sign has various layers of meaning and import to the people who live, work, or visit downtown,” Coons said, “and as such, it has its own immense value as a historic artifact of San Diego’s heritage.

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