The workers may not think of themselves as artists, but there were distinct artistic elements in the making of the KiMo Theatre’s new sign.
There was artistry in Roland Gonzales’ creation of a computerized image for the design of the theater’s sign. In Corey Clark’s bending of the neon tubes that course inside the four letters of the KiMo name. In Kevin Kent’s cutting of the full-sized pattern for the neon. In Jacob Leyba’s painting of the golden yellow letters and the sky blue of the Thunderbird at the top. In Art Wuest’s cutting of the aluminum letters and the bird. And in Chris Tafoya’s cutting and applying of the sign’s black trim and yellow edging.
These six worker/artists — Gonzales, Tafoya, Wuest, Leyba, Kent and Clark — are employees of Zeon Signs, which the city hired to make the double-sided, 24-foot-high sign that was unveiled last month.
The Cultural Services Department wanted a sign that would be as close to the original as possible, but yet reflected the elegance of the exterior of the building, said Craig Rivera, the manager of the city’s Community Events Division.
Creating a similar design was not problematic. Color was. There were no documents that described the color, and only black-and-white photographs that showed it.
The original architectural rendering of the KiMo didn’t show any sign, said Ed Boles, the city’s historic preservation planner.
The sign was probably erected in 1928, the year after the theater opened, he said.
“Early pictures were all black and white and it took quite a while for any color picture of the sign to appear. When they did they were hand-tinted postcards,” he said.
“Finally, I think we got nighttime shots in color. They showed us the color of the neon tubes but not the metal (part of the sign) because the camera rendered the light features but not the dark features.
“The beauty of the lack of information is that it gave us some leeway to decide what colors to make it. I think that was the fun part of this,” he added.
Boles said it’s probable that the sign’s colors and design were modified many times and it’s unclear how long the sign remained attached to the building.
“It was definitely gone by the time the city bought the building in the late 1970s,” he said.
Boles said Betty Rivera, the head of the city’s Cultural Services Department, asked him to carry the application for a certificate of appropriateness for the new KiMo sign before the city Landmarks and Urban Conservation Commission. The KiMo is a city-owned landmark.
“In order to get one of those you don’t necessarily have to perfectly re-create an historic appearance. But if you’re proposing an alteration, which this is, of an existing condition on the outside of the building, you need that certificate,” he said.
An alteration to city landmarks is expected to meet certain guidelines. In the case of the KiMo, Boles said, there was nothing specific about the neon but it was “a matter of preservation principle,” that if we replace a missing feature, it should match the original in terms of design, color, and where possible, materials.”
The theater also is on state and federal registers of historic places.
Boles said the department asked him to help design the sign and make it as good as it can be.
“In designing the new sign we tried to get the critical details of the original sign into the new one,” he said.
The commission approved a certificate for the sign last February.
The city paid Zeon about $16,000 to manufacture and install the KiMo sign. The cost, approved by the Albuquerque Arts Board, was paid out of the city’s One Percent for Art fund.
“We had high expectations and they certainly delivered a beautiful sign,” Craig Rivera said of Zeon.
Boles said the city had wanted a new KiMo sign for years, “but the guy who kept knocking on the door was Johnnie Meier,” the past president of the New Mexico Route 66 Association.