Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Future to the back

The main sign after …
The signs were ahead of their time. Which wasn't good.

So the Delta King asked me to yank them back into the 19th Century where they belonged. Which was good for me and a fun challenge.

Directional sign before …
Here's how the signs looked (right):

The Delta King is a 285-foot sternwheel steamboat, permanently moored to the Old Sacramento embarcadero as a floating hotel, restaurant and theater.

It was built in 1924 and with its sister the Delta Queen served passengers from Sacramento to San Francisco, and even up the San Joaquin River aways.

Painted battleship gray and renamed USS Delta King during World War II to transport naval reservists, it next showed up on the Hudson River before becoming a floating bunkhouse for aluminum plant workers in British Columbia.

The current owners found it nearly 30 years ago, sunk but reparable in Richmond in the San Francisco Bay; they towed it to Sacramento and renovated it.

The Delta Queen went on to ply the Mississippi River and now also serves as a floating hotel, moored on the Tennessee River at Chattanooga.

Serviceable and easy to read, the Delta King's signs nonetheless ran afoul of code restrictions in Old Sacramento, requiring signs to befit the decidedly lower technology of the Gold Rush era in which the city began. Out went the painterly background and the photograph of the trademark red paddlewheel. Out went the collection of 20th Century typefaces — Brush Script Pro for "The Pilothouse," Trajan Pro for "Delta Bar & Grill" and Univers 57 for most of the rest (thanks to my designer son Liam for his keen eye). Even the lively logo for Suspects dinner theater had to go — a 20th Century creation.

The biggest challenge was rebuilding the paddlewheel to resemble an engraving. The wheel has a lot of parts; the illustration of the wheel many more.

The sign went through several iterations, from showcard every-typeface-at-your-disposal dizziness to the result, legible simplicity and muted colors.

The new typeface, Rosewood, is not strictly 18th or 19th Century, but a digital evocation of slab serif types, cousin to Clarendon, an early 19th Century face cut in England. Rosewood is designed with an elaborately decorative alternative (right):

Not everyone likes Rosewood; someone would likely call me out as a fraud. It has the clunky chunky inelegance the project needed.

The URL at the bottom of the main sign, jarringly 21st Century, is set in Clarendon bold.

Directional sign after …
Woodcut dingbats for balance, typographic elements for flourish, et voilà!

Though I work just a block away part-time as a tour guide for the Sacramento Underground, I hadn't been over to the Delta King during the signs' makeover.

I was working instead from the client's proportional dimensions of the existing signs, and in my mind the sign was never bigger than my computer screen.

My stomach tripped and fell when I finally saw the immensity of the main sign, some six feet wide. My ego couldn't wait for the new sign to go up, and after consideration by the commission on antiquarian signage in Old Sacramento, the sign is up for the tourist season.

Someone has already put a dent in the directional sign. Signs live a hard life in Old Sacramento, as my other signs in the neighborhood can attest.

Come on out and look, if you fancy a notion.

The main sign at work, alongside 19th Century signs typical of the era.
The Delta King, forever churning up a lazy river …

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