Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

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Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale
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Photos: Institution Ale

By edhat staff

A recent decision by the Historic Landmarks Commission approved Institution Ale's large indoor neon sign after some controversy.

The brewery located at 516 State Street, the former home of Pierre Lafond, came under fire after opening when the City of Santa Barbara's Sign Committee sent them a letter in April stating their interior neon sign spelling out "Institution Ale" violated a sign ordinance. Even though the sign does not face towards the street, the large front windows make the sign visible from most angles. The letter stated the sign must be set back a minimum of 10 feet from the front window and they could face a $100/day fine until the sign is removed or corrected. 

Brewery owners, father Roger Smith and his sons, Shaun Smith and Ryan Smith, appealed to the Sign Committee and were denied 2-1 on July 2. They then went to the Historic Landmarks Commission and argued the sign is historically accurate due to the buildings 1940's history as a car dealership that included neon signs.

Public commenters disagreed with the historical grounds stating it could lead to other businesses flagrantly disregarding sign ordinances. One public commenter even stated it could be hazardous and distracting for motorists who could endanger nearby pedestrians. Other commenters sided with the brewery stating the business has brought more people out to the area and is livening up State Street during a time where many buildings are vacant.

The Historic Landmarks Commission approved the sign in a 5-2 vote last week.

Institution Ale Co. originally opened in 2013 in Camarillo specializing in American style ales. They opened their Santa Barbara taproom earlier this year offering a large rotating selection of beers and freshly baked thin-crust pizzas and soft pretzels. 

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a-1571792688 Aug 14, 2019 12:21 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Blood Spattered Bars. This is the imagery used for Pumpkin Restraint an ale released for Halloween. The menatlly ill in black and white striped clothing behind bars. Whatever you see this is yet another image that Institution Ale used to stigmatize the mentally ill patients from Camarillo State Mental Hospital. SEE https://users.resist.ca/~kirstena/pagecamarillo.html. Today Institution Ale, IS named after the facility, and chooses to degrade the mentally ill by naming their ales to reference the Hospitals dark past AND to create images like this to market their ales. Not a company I would want to be affiliated with or support. https://www.instagram.com/p/BMARnBtDI5I/

a-1571792688 Aug 14, 2019 01:26 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Have you voiced your concerns to the actual company? Crying to the City Council about their sign obviously didn't work. Maybe try telling the company why you're so upset.

a-1571792688 Aug 14, 2019 12:09 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Crazy, Missing Brain Matter. Whatever you see this Recover the Pieces shows someone with part of their skull removed and the person examining the "missing piece" while tethered to something... Thi is another image that Institution Ale used to stigmatize the mentally ill patients at Camarillo State Mental Hospital. SEE https://users.resist.ca/~kirstena/pagecamarillo.html. Today Institution Ale, which is named after the facility, chooses to degrade the mentally ill by naming their ales to reference the Hospitals dark past AND creating images like the one below to market their ales: https://www.instagram.com/p/BsyYLlQAc0A/

a-1571792688 Aug 14, 2019 12:01 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Mentally Ill Behind Bars. On Pins and Needles is another image that Institution Ale used to stigmize the mentally ill patients at Camarillo State Mental Hospital. SEE https://users.resist.ca/~kirstena/pagecamarillo.html. Today Institution Ale, which is named after the facility, chooses to degrade the mentally ill by naming their ales to reference the Hospitals dark past AND creating images like the one below to market their ales: https://www.instagram.com/p/BqNvFYigbT6/

a-1571792688 Aug 14, 2019 11:52 AM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Unit 28 was used to place mentally ill patients in solitary confinement at Camarillo State Mental Hospital. SEE https://users.resist.ca/~kirstena/pagecamarillo.html Today Institution Ale, which is named after the facility, chooses to degrade the mentally ill with naming their ales to reference the Hospitals dark past but to create images like this to market their ales: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Dc74_T0VAAEw0tD.jpg:large

jak Aug 14, 2019 04:41 AM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Wow! This reminds me of why I left Santa Barbara with mixed feelings rather than with only regrets. I would be the first to admit that some limits are needed on outdoor signage and depending on businesses common sense isn’t always enough to provide those limits, but INSIDE? If y’all don’t like the neon on the wall then don’t patronize the business. Easy peasy. And then get rid of the elected officials who put power in the hands of the thought police. Wow.

a-1571792688 Aug 13, 2019 11:01 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Perpetuating Mental Illness Stigma. Institution Ale names its beers after the horrific experiences of the mentally ill at Camarillo State Mental Hospital. The imagery used to market their business portrays the mentally ill in jail behind blood spattered bars and minimizes the devastating affects of lobotomies while portraying the mentally ill as so unsafe they must be locked up put in straight jackets. Just the kind of business and people we need in Santa Barbara.

Roger Aug 14, 2019 02:50 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Your descriptions of the former state hospital for the mentally ill is more descriptive of mental institutions that existed in the 1700 and 1800's not the middle and late 1900's....I feel like I'm reading Edgar Allen Poe reading your comments having had been an inmate in 1973 in one myself though it was bad it was not as bad as your descriptions. I have known quite a few people that have been through Camarillo State Hospital and from what they told me it was pretty much a country club compared to other places so I cannot help to think your playing off some dark fantasy glorified drama from hell in your comments to slander Institution Ale..There is little truth if any in your comments.

PitMix Aug 14, 2019 01:30 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Maybe you are a clever marketing person for this company and are spreading falsehoods so that we will go look at their advertising? Then when we don't see any "institutionalized" images we will feel relieved and go patronize their business? In a world of Russian trolls, who knows what to believe?

Roger Aug 14, 2019 01:07 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Someone is obsessed with bringing down a business why did you start this slander after they opened?, and not before?

a-1571792688 Aug 14, 2019 12:51 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

@12:32 - you're somewhat right. I do my homework on real issues, but not hotel parking, neon signs, etc. "Issues" such as these are not worth my time, nor are they worth wasting the Council's time and our tax dollars!

a-1571792688 Aug 14, 2019 12:32 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

You don't do your homework. On the other hand AMG does do her homework. There are plenty of images that Institution Ale creates that degrades the mentally ill and further stigmatizes them. All to sell ale. Go look at their Instagram in other social media accounts and scroll through their posts to see their cans of beer or advertising and ask yourself : What do I see? Who does this target or degrade? How does it relate to the name of the mental hospital the company is named after?

a-1571792688 Aug 14, 2019 11:49 AM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Unit 28 was used to place mentally ill patients in solitary confinement at Camarillo State Mental Hospital. Today Institution Ale, which is named after the facility, chooses to degrade the mentally ill with naming their ales to reference the Hospitals dark past but to create images like this to market their ales: https://users.resist.ca/~kirstena/pagecamarillo.html

a-1571792688 Aug 14, 2019 11:10 AM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

@11:07 - I did a google search for Institution Ale images and found nothing remotely resembling "blood spattered bars" or anything else to that effect. Sounds like Anne Marie got on here and is inventing issues again!

a-1571792688 Aug 14, 2019 09:13 AM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

@11:01 regarding Mental Illness Stigma - what are you talking about? Are you actually serious? Why are so many people agreeing with this?

AQUAHOLIC Aug 13, 2019 07:14 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Love the sign! Congrats Institution Ale! Hey SB, focus more on the utterly ragged looking Waterfront area.

a-1571792688 Aug 13, 2019 12:44 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

The plight of neon signs has been ignored for too long! It's time for tolerance and healing! Ho ho, hey hey, neon signs are here to stay! Hey hey, ho ho, neon is the way to go! Gooooooooooooooo signs!

SBRoses Aug 13, 2019 09:44 AM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Neon is a historic form of signage seen through beautiful and historic cities like Paris and New York. It is bizarre the HLC views them as ugly and a threat. There is no reason why we cannot exercise artistic jurisdiction over the design of neon signs which would allow enforcement of a perfectly historic aesthetic while also allowing for neon. All neon is made by craftsman. It’s a dying art in many parts of the world. I went to the initial meeting with the Sign Committee to speak in favor of neon and delivered the group articles citing neon’s resurgence in major global cities and its important in retail/restaurant design. State Street post 1925 was awash in neon. I have the pictures to prove it. Meanwhile we allow crap like a new 7-11 and Subway to hang signs that are technically to code but infinitely more offensive to my senses and an historic feel than hand-crafted neon signage. Long live this beautiful art form.

buckwheat Aug 13, 2019 09:38 AM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

I like the ordinance limiting the size and height of signs OUTSIDE a business but signs inside should not be part of it.

a-1571792688 Aug 13, 2019 01:56 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Unless the sign is gigantic and can be so easily seen from the street that it may as well be on the outside.

biguglystick Aug 13, 2019 09:27 AM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

The sign committee is a JOKE! A 12 page application to put a freakin' SIGN on your own business is insanity, it's the very definition of over-regulation. This city is pretty, and that's nice, but they go way too far and it's all about money and it's really unfair to LOCAL mom-n-pop businesses. It's so hard to open a place here unless you are so rich it's coming out the gills. I LOVE neon signs, they are warm, comforting, stylish and they have a homey feel. I'm so happy that this sign will stay. It's warm glow is beautiful. Lighten UP, Santa Barbara!

RHS Aug 13, 2019 08:48 AM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

This is one to study. My impression of the "sign" was that it is as much about illumination as advertising. Would it have been illegal to have neon lights on that wall if they did not spell out a word? There is always a point where black letter law meets practice. Sure this company pushed the pocket but I doubt that they even knew that was an issue when they put the neon. Glad the city backed off.

PitMix Aug 13, 2019 03:17 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Am surprised the sign company did not know the rules before they installed the sign. Don't you think they would be aware of the City ordinance? Or was it a case of better to ask Forgiveness than Permission?

kantanen Aug 13, 2019 07:52 AM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

The sign has a great feel.... thank you L. Committee. Let's continue to revive and restore our beloved State Street with innovative and fun stuff!

NostraChumash Aug 13, 2019 07:23 AM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

The visual character of SB actually did happen by accident.. The 1925 quake changed everything. The new look, Sp-colonial-revival became the "character", but even Carlos lll wrote in a letter; "Our attempt at making SB like our home (spain), has been a dismal failure.

Flicka Aug 12, 2019 07:07 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

The sign being inside the building is totally different than having it out on the street hanging over the sidewalk which I'd surmise was the original intent of the sign ordinance.

a-1571792688 Aug 12, 2019 04:40 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

I like neon signs; they are often classier than other lighted signs. I do appreciate the efforts that people have made over the years to keep SB from looking like a common, tacky stripmall. But maybe it's time to re-work the sign ordinance to allow more artistically designed neon--especially in interiors like this one.

SBRoses Aug 13, 2019 09:41 AM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

I could not agree more. I have been collecting historic imagery showcasing beautiful neon signs around town, as far back as the 20s when neon first arrived in this country from France. Neon signs are beautiful and add character, magic, and essential interesting texture to our urban environment. I miss the old El Encanto sign. The new signage is downright banal.

a-1571792688 Aug 12, 2019 02:43 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

So what happens if other businesses start "flagrantly disregarding sign ordinances?" Seriously, what's the big deal. It's a sign! Why are people so concerned about outlaw signs? Priorities, folks....

a-1571792688 Aug 13, 2019 09:56 AM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

Overall it’s great and I hugely appreciate the aesthetic but it’s moving toward pastiche. The proliferation is faux “Spanish,” and specifically the bizarre allowance for blatantly Moroccan architecture is getting boring. We need to have a few more styles going (which can all also reference historic architecture, too) or else this place is going to look like Disneyland in a couple decades. I like the new project approved for De La Guerra between SB and Garden. Historic feeling but not your typical “Spanish.” I also really like what was done on Cota between State and Chapala with the warehouse building. That is an excellent way to preserve something historic looking but add visual interest. If we make every single building faux-Spanish-Moroccan it’s going to look like a theme park up in here pretty fast.

PitMix Aug 13, 2019 08:49 AM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

They get away with that by saying that they enforce these rules on a complaint basis. So are encouraging neighbors to act unneighborly by turning you in to the code people. The list of possible common violations is parking your RV in your driveway, parking your car in your driveway for longer than 48 hrs, trash cans being visible in between pickup days, unapproved plants in the City's parkway in front of your house.

a-1571792688 Aug 12, 2019 10:39 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

NOTREALLYDAVE. I sure as heck don't agree with you about the sign ordinance. I prefer Santa Barbara remain uncluttered as possible. Can you imagine if every business owner had the freedom to erect whichever signs wherever they wanted on their property? Holy hell. It would be so ugly around here. ******** As for the 48 hours parking thing: Yep. I knew about that rule because one of my neighbors who, by the way, parked cars in their access driveway for decades every day of the week, dobbed me in for parking in my access driveway. I thought I was helping out around the neighborhood by not always taking up street parking. Go figure. Then I found out I can't even park up against my garage on my own property----a regular vehicle, not some huge truck or boat or RV or anything---- if someone decides to enforce that, I'd be ticketed, too. It's ridiculous.

NotReallyDave Aug 12, 2019 07:51 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

I suggest that the real issue is that there are City ordinances like this that should never have been put on the books. Too much regulation by politicians for the working populace. Do you realize there is an ordinance that forbids a homeowner from parking a vehicle in a driveway for more than 48 hours, under certain conditions? I was recently written up on that one, and given 48 hours to rectify. Why have ordinances if a City official can choose to violate them or not enforce? Or enforce when the mood strikes? Very unfair.

nope Aug 12, 2019 02:43 PM
Neon Sign to Stay at Institution Ale

It was a member of the sign committee that reported the sign originally, no surprise on their vote but very glad to see that HLC has some sense.

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