Fullerton Heritage Presents Local Landmark 104

YMCA Neon Sign 2000 Youth Way

Although most people associate landmark designations with buildings, objects such as fountains, sculptures, monuments, hitching posts, or signs may also be nominated. A recent example is Local Landmark Number 104, the YMCA neon sign that overlooks North Harbor Blvd, one block south of the St. Jude Medical Center.

The neon sign and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) building were both dedicated on October 29, 1962, at 2000 Youth Way, then a new street named by contest winner Dorothy Brewer (Mrs. Hubert D. Brewer).

The Mid-Century Modern facility and exterior neon sign were designed by notable local architect Charles Marwood Wickett, the first grandchild of Valencia orange czar Charles C. Chapman, Fullerton’s first mayor. He completed over a hundred homes in Fullerton, with “Wickett houses” earning the distinction as dwellings that were well-designed and solidly constructed, but he also worked on a number of different projects, including the original Del Taco drive-through, the Alta Vista Golf Club House, and the State College Shopping Center.

In designing the exterior sign, Wickett used the YMCA’s standard and recognizable logo, popular from 1897 to 1967, which featured the boxed letters YMCA imposed over a red triangle. (The three sides of the triangle represent mind, body, and spirit.) The simple contemporary letters met the identification needs of the organization but also reflected and complemented the Mid-Century Modern architecture of the new facility.

The 15-foot-tall, red, white, and blue neon sign, positioned west of the building entrance and dramatically perched over North Harbor Blvd, was produced and installed by the Nu-Art Neon Sign Company, established in Fullerton in 1946.

At its peak, the Nu-Art Neon Sign Company employed a dozen mechanics and artists who produced both neon and painted signs that ranged from postage stamp size to thousand-dollar extravaganzas.

In the mid-1950s, the company – whose slogan was “Everything in Signs”– was producing 95% of the signs made in northern Orange County. Everything made by the company was produced from raw materials at the local plant, located at 114 West Amerige Ave, with additional production work done at 235 East Santa Fe Ave.

The YMCA sign is one of the few remaining neon signs in Fullerton. Two other important neon signs in Fullerton – the one at the Dewella Apartments on East Wilshire Ave and the sign in front of the Fullerton Police Station – are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the building nominations.