Iconic Santa Fe Sign May Change (Update 1)

Santa Fe and Motorola signs side-by-side

If there’s one thing Chicago preservationists hate, it’s signs on downtown buildings.  The only thing they hate more is when existing signs on downtown buildings are changed.

That’s the prospect being faced at the Santa Fe Building (224 South Michigan Avenue), formerly known as the Railway Exchange Building.  Motorola is moving a hundred employees from the ‘burbs into the historic 1904 building, and as part of the deal it apparently gets naming rights.

Thursday, Motorola will ask the city’s landmarks commission for permission to replace the illuminated “Santa Fe” with very similar illuminated “Motorola.”

Here’s what it might look like:

Santa Fe Building with Motorola sign

It’s hardly a drastic change.  Motorola intends to keep the illumination, and keep the font.  It even plans to keep the scaffolding.

For those who haven’t been keeping up on their industrial history: The Santa Fe Railroad no longer exists.  It hasn’t existed since December 31, 1996.  Its former tracks are now the BNSF Railway, which is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas.

And Santa Fe is hardly the only ghost sign on the Michigan Avenue streetwall.  Just down the avenue is the BorgWarner sign, which promotes a company that left Chicago for Detroit (talk about an insult!) in 2005.  You may also remember that 30 North Michigan harbored a shrink wrapped sign for a defunct bank for close to a decade.

Does keeping the Santa Fe sign (and the BorgWarner sign) mean we should allow Michigan Avenue to become a museum of historic signage?  Should put up a “Jones & Son Buggy Whip Company” sign on Symphony Hall?  That might be a cool tourist attraction.  We could find and resurrect the old Torco sign from the Columbia College South Building (624 South Michigan Avenue), and scour the newspaper archives for photos of other lost signs that we can recreate.  Next thing you know, the place could look like a 1920’s version of Las Vegas.

If you have an opinion about this, feel free to express it below.  If you have a very strong opinion on this, you should also show up in room 201-A at City Hall at 12:45pm on Thursday, May 3rd.

Update: 5:19pm CT - April 30, 2012

In the comments below, Dennis McClendon has linked to a drawing of the actual proposed sign:

Motorola sign proposal

That’s certainly a change from the old Santa Fe sign.  The landmarks commission’s agenda for Thursday reads:

Proposed reface of the existing non-historic illuminated rooftop “Santa Fe” sign with new illuminated “Motorola” copy on existing structure,

The graphic above is hardly a “copy” since the font, size, and style have changed.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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