Signs – too many or not enough?

Jim McCarthy recently proposed to the Planning Board that an initiative be taken to put up better signage to attract more visitors to the Downtown.      He complained that there was little indication in the Storey Avenue area that a beautiful historic city lay just beyond the modern-looking commercial district.

Contrasting that, we have Port Plaza.     Anyone (and that includes most of us) who have visited this complex of stores know that the entire area is blanketed with signage.       So much so, that new drivers literally have to slow their vehicles so they can absorb all the information.      It has been so noticed by our local politicians that there have been cries to pass ordinances to limit signage.

At one time, at the end of Ralph’s Lane at the intersection of Plum Island Turnpike, a driver could, instead of the majestic views of Joppa and the Harbor, be visually awash by over a dozen signs pointing toward Plum Island or Downtown.     

Then, there are the mysterious archeological remains of signage left here and there.     Their faces blank from years of weathering leaving a mystery for all of us to decipher.       The ones that kill me the most are blank plaques left on historic homes – with no hint from the inventory of the Newburyport Historic District.     With a puzzled look, I exclaim, “What significant thing happened here that an owner from the past took the time to put up this sign?”

Then there are the rusted signs of history.     The Watt’s Cellar sign or the ugly rusted Dalton House sign come to mind and the worst – the partially worn-off signs on tombstones.

Signage is powerful – too little and great harm can happen – too much and confusion prevails causing unintended harm.

People forget that the NRA has a powerful sway over the areas that were restored under the Urban Renewal.  Their restrictions on  Signage is powerful and can heavily influence the appearance and mood of an area.     The City takes its signage ordinance very seriously and City Council monitors every application.

Therefore, Jim McCarthy has a powerful point.     How much loss of business has the Downtown suffered because we have not stressed its importance?     How many curious travelers on Route 95 stopping for a bite to eat have just turned around and gone back on the highway?

Historically, Newburyport has suffered greatly due to lack of signage.      When the Newburyport Historic District was established and recognized by the National Register of Historic Places; the City was sent a letter encouraging them to immediately put up signage.      They failed to do so – and now a great number of citizens don’t even know they are in an historic district and their destructive attitude toward their historic buildings reflect that.      It should be a given that if you live in the center of Newburyport, the area is to be treated differently but instead the average homeowner ends up being surprised when the way of ‘suburbia’ no longer applies to their homes.      According to Mass Historic, we have lost over 750+ homes and I feel strongly it is because of this lack of signage.

“Though this property contains over 2,000 properties, the majority of residents do not even know it exists, [and] are not aware of what its boundaries are…”

                                          -Sarah White, former President of the Preservation Trust

And just for an embarassed laugh this is from the website of the The National Architectural Trust:

“In Newburyport, Massachusetts, the local government tried unsuccessfully to fund a preservation commission to monitor and protect the second largest single community of Federal style architecture in the United States. This community of 2,600 homes has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984. Despite placement on the National Register and local efforts to protect the community, demolition, development and period inappropriate alterations and additions have effectively replaced one third of these historic properties.”

Mr. McCarthy’s appeal should be taken very seriously especially in this tight economy.      Any way to encourage more visitors to our historic city will increase our economic situation and our historic city’s preservation.

Let’s put up signage for our historic district and lay out appealing signs to attract more visitors to our Downtown!

-P. Preservationist


About P. Preservationist

Dedicated to the Enrichment & Preservation of Newburyport
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