only sign in Vancouver with heritage designation. Dunn's Tailors
persuaded city planners to allow their sign to be relocated from
Hastings Street when the store moved to 480 Granville and Pender
in 1995, although the sign was "non-conforming'' (meaning it
could not be erected under today's bylaws).
neon sign finds a new life
Dunn's Tailors landmark to glow at store's new location
The Vancouver Sun, Oct 28, 1995 .
Dunn's Tailors decided to move from its longtime store
at 390 West Hastings to a location at 480 Granville, there
was one piece of the old building that owner Bob Smith
dared not leave behind: Dunn's trademark neon sign.
tell you, as soon as I announced we were going to move,
I had a steady stream of people coming in: 'You're taking
that sign. You've got to take that sign,' '' says Smith.
"I had phone call after phone call after phone call.
I've had letters from strangers saying 'You must take
was bad before, whenever we went to paint it or anything.
As soon as they put a ladder up, people started coming
out of the woodwork. 'You're not taking that down!' ''
moving the 6.7-metre-wide sign was no simple matter. Its
ruby-red neon glow may have been a staple of the downtown
landscape since the sign was erected in 1946, but in 1995,
it contravened several elements of Vancouver's sign bylaw.
number one: It protrudes onto the street. Problem number
two: The neon letters comprise more than 40 per cent of
the face of the sign. Problem number three: The letters
sit atop a flat canopy, which is designated as a roof
under the sign bylaw -- and you can't have roof-top signs
long as the sign stayed at the old location, it was fine.
But when Smith tried to move it, he ran afoul of the bylaw.
caused me a lot of aggravation,'' says Smith. "It
was a long process. We had to go to the board of variance,
get development permits, all these various things, until
we got approved.''
took about four months to get civic approval to move the
sign. It is now undergoing a $40,000 rebuild at the
plant in Richmond, and is scheduled to be erected at Dunn's
new Granville street location Nov. 6.
activists and proponents of neon are elated that the Dunn's
sign has been saved. But they say the problems Smith encountered
illustrate the shortcomings of the sign bylaw, which severely
limits the style of new neon signs.
the bylaw prohibits or severely restricts things like
flashing lights (such as the cascading waterfall on the
Niagara Hotel sign on West Pender) and signs above the
third storey (such as the Orpheum sign).
Hill of Sign-o-lite thinks this is ridiculous.
the harm in it?'' asks Hill. "What's wrong with a
flashing neon sign? You look down a street and see a flashing
neon sign, it looks like a city.''
Vancouver once had the most neon per capita in North America.
There was so much neon on Granville, it was nicknamed
"the Great White Way.''
at one time had 18,000 neon signs,'' says Allan Goldman,
who is working on a documentary film about Vancouver's
neon's age, Glowing in the Dark.
had one neon sign for every 19 people in the 1950s. It
was a neon mecca.''
not for some Vancouverites, who saw all the neon as a
form of visual blight.
Atkin of Heritage Vancouver explains that in the late
1960s, there was a move to showcase the city's natural
attractions, and signage -- like neon -- came under attack.
by the head of the community arts council, the anti-sign
crusaders ``got their knickers in a real tight twist about
`visual blight,' '' he said.
took aim at all the billboards at the ends of the bridges.
Then they decided billboards in general, then they thought
neon was ugly. They wanted to beautify the city.
alderman blamed neon for both the litter and prostitution
problem in Vancouver. That was the other attack on neon
-- it was this sleazy light source.''
the anti-blight crusade led to a new sign bylaw. While
it didn't specifically target neon, Goldman says it effectively
``put the kibosh'' on Vancouver's neon business.
ended the days of the neon spectacular -- the spectacular
animated moving signs that had once been in the city were
no longer put up.
they were no longer a form of advertising that advertisers
knew they could use.''