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Commission nixes neon for P. Terry’s sign

Friday, September 5, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

(Natalie Krebs participated in the preparation of this story.)

The new downtown P. Terry’s struck out for a second time at the Historic Landmark Commission on Monday night, where it became abundantly clear that the local burger stand will not be getting a neon sign anytime soon.

P. Terry’s founder, Patrick Terry, returned to the commission to plead his case for a neon sign at 515 Congress Ave. This time, he came with proof that neon would be historically accurate.

Commissioners were not sufficiently swayed by Terry’s testimony. They voted 4-1 to approve staff recommendation, which will allow the signs but not the neon, with Commissioner John Rosato voting against. Commissioners Mary Jo Gallindo and Andrea Roberts were absent.

Terry said he returned with what he thought was good news. In the month since he was last before the commission, Terry had found proof that Joe Koen & Son Jewelers had once had a neon sign on the site.

Commissioner Terri Myers expressed surprise that Terry was back with the same request. Per their rules, commissioners will reconsider cases in which the applicant can show there was a neon sign previously. In this case, it was unclear whether that rule applied, because the neon sign was on a building that previously stood at 515 Congress Ave.

“In the past, we have allowed existing historic signs on existing historic buildings, which I think is the intent,” said Chair Laurie Limbacher.

“We have a bank building sitting here now,” said Terry. “I don’t think a neon sign would impede the historical interpretation of a building that is sitting there right now.”

Though the new P. Terry’s will not be in a historic building, the location is in the Congress Avenue and Sixth Street historic districts, giving the commission authority over signs. Its guidelines say there should be no exposed neon in signs in those districts.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said they were already being flexible about what signs they were allowing P. Terry’s to have, and suggested the commission “stand by their guns” on the exposed neon issue.

“Even though these signs are oversized and too many in number, staff’s recommendation was to approve them, but not the exposed neon,” said Sadowsky. “Staff is very concerned about setting a precedent in both of these districts. We would have probably hundreds of applications for neon signs on Sixth Street.”

Limbacher pointed out that the commission did not just consider individual buildings, but the character of the district as a whole. She said it had been a “pretty big issue” for commission members to limit the use of neon where there is an actual historic sign, with historic neon, on a historic building.

Rosato, the lone vote of dissent, explained that he had been upset about illegal neon on Sixth Street in the past, but the reality was that “exposed neon was a lot more historic looking” and more attractive than the proposed sign, which uses halo lighting and channeled letters.

“It would seem as though exposed neon would be perfectly appropriate,” said Rosato. “That’s just my opinion.”


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