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City green-lights repairs for historic signs

Owners no longer must let them decay or tear them down

  • Updated

Quality Inn Flamingo Hotel - A 1950s-era sign at 1300 N. Stone Ave.

Aging historic signs can now be repaired instead of simply removed under new rules passed unanimously by the Tucson City Council on Tuesday.

Under the city's previous sign code, older signs didn't meet requirements, so if they came down for repairs they could never go back up.

Therefore, business owners were forced to choose between letting their old signs deteriorate or tearing them down.

The new ordinance allows for easier repair and reuse of these signs, including neon signs. Historic signs no longer in existence can be replicated as long as they are 100 percent accurate, in their original location and the originals were built before 1961.

An application for a historic sign would be made by a property owner, and signs will be considered by the city on a case-by-case basis.

Existing signs must have been built before 1974, and they must meet a series of criteria to be considered historic. The new rules end in 18 months if they are not extended by the council.

Signs could be relocated, too, if they are moved to an area that has traditionally had similar historic signs. Some of the areas that have traditionally had such signs include Miracle Mile, North Oracle Road, Drachman Street, North Stone Avenue, downtown and South Sixth Avenue.

When Tucson updated its sign code in the 1980s, many older business signs were too big, too tall or too near the public rights of way to meet the new criteria.

More than 20 speakers spoke in favor of the new rules, while four spoke against.

Chris Evans, co-founder of the Modern Architecture Preservation Project, said the signs are a connection to the past. Many are only 60 to 80 years old, but they are part of the fabric of the community, he said.

The signs are "not just as a part of our history, but as a link to the development of the West and the development of Tucson," Evans said.

"This is something we should have done 20 years ago," said Carlos Lozano of the Tucson-Pima County Historical Commission.

Self-insurance help

In other business, the council approved a trust to help close a $28 million deficit in its self-insurance fund.

Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or

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