Welcome to controversy

Ideas come forth for ‘Welcome to Downtown Edmonds’ sign
By Brian Soergel | Oct 15, 2018
Courtesy of: Mack Benek Mack Benek created this cartoon on the Edmonds welcome sign controversy.

The “Welcome to Downtown Edmonds” sign, whose redesign is on hold after aggressive public outcry, certainly is getting its share of publicity.

Here’s some more.

To recap: City officials in July decided that it was time to scrap the 40-year-old, so-called gateway sign on SR 104 that greets residents and visitors as they speed, um, drive into town on SR 104 to Fifth Avenue South.

It’s falling apart, sure, so the City brought in Clayton Moss of FORMA environmental graphic and signage design to create a new one to complement Edmonds’ other directional, mostly blue, mostly no-frills, signs.

The proposed new sign – which read “Edmonds Downtown” – had the approval of the Washington Department of Transportation, which is responsible for SR 104 and did not want a sign that could be considered a distraction.

But it seems someone misjudged how much the old sign meant to some residents, whose reactions must have been foreseen by City officials.

Edmonds is changing, yes, but there are many who fervently hang on to the belief that the city must maintain a modicum of charm and welcomeness amid the rush to modernity.

Last month, the Beacon ran an update explaining that outspoken sign-critic Mike McMurray had commissioned Mack Benek, a local creative sign and mural artist of more than 50 years, to create a half-scale replica of the “Welcome to Downtown Edmonds” sign.

The point was to show that a new sign can certainly be made to replace the old one without sacrificing its appeal.

Now Benek is making his voice heard, as is Lilyan Hendershot of Edmonds-based The Branding Iron. Hendershot happens to represent both Benek and McMurray, the latter developing Main Street Commons on Main Street and Sixth Avenue North.

“Maybe the new design would work well for an industrial park,” said Benek, whose latest mural can be seen at Main Street Commons. “But not to welcome people to our wonderful community of Edmonds.”

Benek said he doesn’t agree that the city’s directional signs need to look the same.

“Think of a movie poster or a book jacket,” he said. “The name of the director, producer or author are in plain and simple lettering such as Helvetica, like downtown directional signs should be, but the movie or book title is creative and designed to excite and sell the movie or book.”

How often, Benek asked, have you picked up a book or decided to give a movie a try simply because of the interest the title art created?

“A sign can say much more than the words on it. When people see our gateway sign, it should say, ‘We have a first class museum, a performing arts center, galleries, bookstores, wonderful shops and restaurants. Welcome to our city.’ Unfortunately, for me the proposed sign says ‘Edmonds … a two-hour wait for the ferry.’ The sign should be something special.”

Benek said the sign would be fine, not a distraction, as long as it’s not animated or flashing.

The materials used in a sign can also make a statement, he said, recommending kiln-dried, old-growth cedar that is available at specialty stores.

“This is not only very durable and long lasting, but also would echo Edmonds’ heritage of the millions of cedar shingles produced here,” he said. “Also, I would use 23-carat gold leaf on the lettering, which is richer and more durable than paint. The sign should be hand-carved to reflect the area’s vibrant arts community.”

Benek said he has an idea of the sign’s optics.

“It has always bothered me that the most iconic image used to promote Edmonds is a ferry sailing away. I’d like to see a sign that makes Edmonds a destination and not a departure point for Port Townsend’s shops and restaurants.”

Benek said he realized his ideas will probably be rejected – Parks and Recreation Director Carrie Hite said she is meeting with Moss next week, and an expanded committee has been assembled to work on a redesign to present at an open house, one that Moss said will have more public input this time.

But Benek has hopes for his ideas.

“This project needs fresh blood and, yes, I would love to submit some proposals, but also open it up to other ideas as well. Of course, I am willing to reproduce the existing sign at a considerable savings to the city.

“In keeping with the bumper sticker on my car, ‘My pencil is stronger than your technology,’ let’s put away the computers and get out our pencils and design a sign with heart and soul that truly reflects our little piece of heaven.”

Edmonds resident Bob Sears, who attended the Los Angeles Art Center College of Design and was a senior art director at Chicago ad agency Leo Burnett Worldwide, is a friend of Benek’s.

“I think Mack’s experience and expertise in the field of signage should give him a voice in how Edmonds greets its visitors and locals,” Sears said. “His style has warmth and, while some people think that Edmonds is more hip, I believe a contemporary look while still giving a nod to Edmonds’ heritage and past can still be achieved.

“Mack’s views about different surfaces, textures and methods of creating a sign tells me that he’s more than a sign painter. I would call him a sign stylist or designer.”

Another option

Hendershot said she has submitted a sign design to the Parks and Recreation department separately that The Branding Iron created.

“It utilizes the concrete base that Clayton created in his original concept, with added engraved waves to symbolize our waterfront town,” she said. “The white areas would be engraved, and the words ‘Downtown Edmonds’ would be on stand-off letters, preferably chrome or silver.”

She said her sign combines the modern feel of Moss’ sign with the warm, welcoming feel of the current wooden sign. It also ties in the tagline that Edmonds Downtown Alliance (Ed!) is using to market Edmonds, “Love, Edmonds.”

As a graphic designer, Hendershot said she understands that sometimes a client will request that a design be made with certain specifications.

“This was the case with the welcome sign that Clayton designed. It met the branding guidelines that were established for wayfinding signage. From a technical standpoint, he did what was requested. Those guidelines were established – to simply guide you to where you might find things in town.”

But the sign is more than a directional sign, Hendershot said.

“It is an iconic Edmonds greeting that welcomes tourists and out-of-towners to our community. It is a handshake that says, ‘It’s great to meet you. Come experience our town.’ The biggest thing that the proposal was missing was the word ‘welcome,’ and the feeling of a friendly, artsy town.”

Hendershot said she is grateful that the community reacted to the sign concept with passion and a unified voice.

“Community input from local artists such as Benek and developers like McMurray,” she said, “is key to finding a solution that will be in line with the direction that Edmonds is growing.”


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