Sign Hill Park

JFK was probably still chasing secretaries around the Oval Office when I caught my first glimpse of the South San Francisco The Industrial City sign from Mom’s old Fairlane on Route 101. I might not have been old enough to sound out the words, but I certainly knew my letters by kindergarten … and there they were, thirty-four of them, starched white and sixty feet high on that short, flat-faced hill north of the airport.

Letter "S" in "South" in Sign Hill Park sign

Letter “S” in “South” and the view southeast

Any trip to SFO included at least a look at that sign. By college I found the ‘industrial city’ part a bit camp, like sequined glasses or a beehive hairdo, and likely smirked at it from the Airporter bus. I saw it again many times after I settled in as a Los Angeles teacher in my thirties, and flew north for family reunions on holidays. Unconsciously, I regarded the sign as a landmark that was, would be and always had been, like an outcrop of Franciscan chert. Perhaps Columbian mammoths had once grazed by the letters.

Not once in all those years did it occur to me that the letters might stand in a publicly accessible place, and that the place and the letters might be visited.

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Sign Hill Park” is the name of the publicly accessible place. It includes thirty acres of hillside due south of the 2,300+ acres of San Bruno Mountain. Roaring Twenties South S.F. dreamt up the slogan to promote their turf to visiting captains of industry. The letters went up in powdered lime in 1923 and were cast in cement six years later.

Letter "O" in Sign Hill Park sign

Letter “O” in “Francisco”

If you grew up in the Bay Area and have logged your own decades of idle looks at that sign, I think you’ll thank yourself if you visit at least once. The walk from the South S.F. BART takes about forty minutes. I also counted a few parking spaces off Ridgeview Court, by the park’s west entrance. Expect to be alone, if visiting on a weekday, and nearly alone if visiting on a weekend.

A few advisories:

  • Many Yelp scribes use the word ‘steep.’ Come and you’ll know why.
  • Expect no bathroom and you won’t be disappointed.
  • The Ridge Trail above the letters and the Letters Trail beneath are reasonably navigated, at least by my standards. The smudged tracks between and to the letters are a different story. Expect to sidestep, slip, shimmy and scramble, and perhaps to fall. I nearly did. Navigate at your own risk, if at all.
View from Letters Trail in Sign Hill Park

Looking up from Letters Trail

For photogs: I don’t know what rules might apply and certainly don’t want you to bonk anyone on the head with an airborne camera, but I’ll just betcha that someone someday is going to grab a spectacular shot here by screwing a wide angle on a dSLR, attaching that dSLR to a kite, floating the dSLR high enough over Sign Hill to capture both letters and South San Francisco beneath, and being very, very patient. Perhaps like this gentleman.

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