An icon of friendliness, Petaluma's welcome sign, may soon have to come down.
As Caltrans reconfigures the Petaluma Boulevard South interchange with Highway 101, the sign welcoming northbound motorists to the Egg Basket of the World is in the way.
But any changes won't be permanent, said Onita Pellegrini, chief executive of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce.
It was the chamber that raised funds for the approximately 40-foot tall sign and installed it in 1975 at the southernmost entrance to town. (A matching sign welcomes southbound drivers near the pumpkin patch and corn field.)
The simple, orange-painted metal sign has a horizontal oval top with "Petaluma" in the center with the outline of hills behind it. The year the city was incorporated, 1858, is bracketed by "Sonoma County" on the underside curve. Underneath, between the steel support posts, are signs of the city's service clubs including Lions, Kiwanis, Elks and Rotary.
Some residents worry that the sign could be permanently lost, Pellegrini said. But a team of design professionals, city representatives and business leaders are working on a plan to restore and possibly modernize the sign – whose style is difficult to pin down.
"You mean the flyswatter?" asked City Councilman Gabe Kearney, who grew up in Petaluma and has passed the sign an untold number of times in his life.
"It's almost art deco-y. I'm not sure what it is," he said. "But I like it. I don't know anyone who doesn't like it."
The sign is on Caltrans property, so replacing a service group sign or even accessing it is complicated, Pellegrini said.
"Because it is seen from the freeway, we have to get someone's permission, we have to have permits from Caltrans," she said. "We have to make sure anything we put on the sign doesn't distort a driver's view, isn't flashing or reflective. That's why it's airy and open."
The Petaluma Design Guild and Ingrid Alverde, the city's economic development director, are creating a city marketing plan that the new sign may draw from, Pellegrini said. New colors, a logo or a motto maybe considered.
The City Council will likely weigh in on the final design.
"I wouldn't want it to change too much from what it is now," Kearney said. "The sign is kind of simplistic and it has that flyswatter look to it, but it's unique."
When the sign comes down — whenever construction needs the space — it could stay down for two years during the highway work.
It could go back up sooner if city-owned or even private land can be found for it. The northern sign is on city land.
"We don't want to lose the signs, they have some historic value and are part of our heritage," Pellegrini said. "Although it's not an easy process, we certainly will have welcome signs in Petaluma."
(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
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