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Clear Sign & Design Blends Classic with Contemporary for Apartment Building’s Retro Sign

The company won three industry awards for the project.

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(Check out signsofthetimes.com/newpalacephotos for more great pictures of this project.)
(Check out signsofthetimes.com/newpalacephotos for more great pictures of this project.)

LET ME GET THIS straight… The client needs a new blade-and-marquee sign — for the New Palace apartments, located in downtown San Diego — that blends modern style with a 1920’s twist? Oh, and they also want 1-in.-thick letters that provide both halo-glow and push-through acrylic accent lighting? No problem.

In reality, those requests represented only a small portion of the challenges. We also needed to cover a century-plus-old, wood-framed canopy that was no longer plumb or level, and sagged in the middle. Add a request for a custom handmade cornice and under-canopy ceiling panels, and this quickly became a detailed engineering undertaking despite Allgire General Contractors (Carlsbad, CA) having updated most of the property.

Armed with solid design intent from Studio E Architects (San Diego), we worked out all final conflicts and tolerances in SolidWorks, then quickly refined the intent and engineered some interesting layers onto our already-complex marquee. From that point, the design advanced to our skilled tradesperson to machine and prep for a beautiful Ultra Low-VOC metallic finish, courtesy of Matthews Paint.

A close-up shot highlights the contrasting white push-through center as it juxtaposes against the metallic letter body and smooth gray canopy skin.

A close-up shot highlights the contrasting white push-through center as it juxtaposes against the metallic letter body and smooth gray canopy skin.

The part of the build we receive the most comments on are the slick, dual-lit letters. Due to the lack of space and low profile, we opted to machine the letters from solid 1-in. acrylic. This gave us maximum control to design the push-through acrylic attachment means, and recess for the polycarbonate backer. With less than ¾ in. to diffuse the LED modules, we specified Bitro Group’s “Tracer LED tape” that provided perfect module spacing and the flexibility for 90° turns without distorting the tape or modules.

Although a great product, the Tracer series does require soldering to keep the profile low — not only a tedious process, but one of the most critical in order to prevent future service calls and hot/dark spots. We also chose to contrast the warm 3000K Edison bulbs with a cooler 5000K letter to add a bit more visual interest.

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Final adjustments to protect and secure the soldering connections of the Bitro Tracer series LED tape.

Final adjustments to protect and secure the soldering connections of the Bitro Tracer series LED tape.

To balance the modern-to-period-specific feel of the build, we custom-built a large cornice (also designed on SolidWorks), using a detailed auto-brake file that bump-bent the radius to perfection. After some careful TIG-welding and a week of Bondo and block-sanding, the 22-ft.-long cornice was complete. Coordinating with the existing architecture also required us to build a custom light track to support the LED G16 exposed filament globe bulbs.

Clear Sign & Design won three industry awards for this project, which required us to balance an era-based design with materials, processes and aesthetics with modern durability. We’re pretty proud of that.

Gabe Griffin is the general manager of Clear Sign & Design (San Marcos, CA), a sign company that sees the art in all that they do. Contact Gabe at [email protected]

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