New Neon Sign Lights Up Old Sacramento Waterfront: ‘A Great Welcoming Beacon’

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A bright new attraction in Old Sacramento was revealed Wednesday night. The neon letters are hard to miss, but some are wondering if the sign fits in with the historic charm of this seasoned slice of the city.

From the wooden boardwalks to the Gold Rush-era buildings, Old Sacramento is a look back in time.

“We are really at ground zero of the state of California. This is where it all begins,” said John Fraser, a district superintendent with California State Parks.

The area is designated as a national historic landmark and attracts more than two million visitors a year.

Now, this historic district has a bright new attraction: a neon sign atop the state railroad museum that can be seen from I-5 that reads “Old Sacramento Waterfront.”

“It’s just a great landmark that’s certainly going to be a great welcoming beacon,” said Scott Ford with the Downtown Sacramento Partnership.

Many businesses welcome the new marketing move.

“Now that they’ve got a new sign that says Old Sac that you can see from the freeway, that’s just great, I love it,” said Danny Johnson, an Old Sacramento business owner.

But in 2005, city leaders passed a law designed to protect the historic integrity of the area. Among other things, it outlawed signs that don’t reflect the Gold Rush era, including “neon or neon-like material.” So why is a new, modern-looking sign being allowed in Old Sacramento?

“We think it’s going to live in a way on top of this building that doesn’t really affect people’s historic experience in Old Sacramento,” Fraser said. “Nonetheless, it was something that we talked with the city very closely about. The city very much supports what we’re doing with this sign.”

The new neon sign comes amid efforts to re-design the waterfront. City leaders approved spending millions to add new amenities, but that money was dependent on hotel taxes which have fallen since the pandemic.

Other improvements like a $5 million investment in new security are underway, and planning has started for a new hotel. Old Sacramento officials say the changes are needed to keep people coming back.

“You do run the risk of, if you’re not introducing new things for people to come and see that you’re not attracting tourists from out of town, you’re not encouraging people who live here locally to maybe come more frequently,” Fraser said.

The 20-foot-tall sign is made up of hundreds of LED lights and uses less energy than a hair blow dryer.