The now-iconic sign that arches across downtown Texas Street and lets visitors know they are in “Fairfield County Seat Solano County” was erected in 1925. Evidently the same catalyst for the city to have a “Where is Fairfield?” festival 70 years later existed back in the roaring ’20s.
The Fairfield Community Club, a local service outfit, morphed into the Fairfield Lions Club, an affiliate of a larger national organization, in 1925 and the sign was its first project. The price tag was approximately $1,000 (the equivalent of more than $13,000 today).
While a special tax made up the difference, the Fairfield Lions Club raised the, well, lion’s share of the cost in various ways, including selling 50-cent raffle tickets, with the grand prize a donated washing machine (retail value: $135). The National Electric Sign Company in Oakland was the builder.
The sign’s location, in the middle of the block between Jackson and Webster streets, was chosen as it was then the geographic center of Fairfield and the busiest downtown block. It was across from Evans and Pyle Hardware store, which installed a convenient water fountain near it.
The sign was completed in March, but getting poles that could support its weight created a problem that took months to solve. Finally, the community was invited to an unveiling party Oct. 23, 1925. According to reports in the Solano Republican newspaper, when the sign was switched on, the crowd applauded lustily, then began to party as citizens from ages 6 to 60 danced to selections by the Fairfield Community Band.
Eighty incandescent light bulbs first illuminated the letters of the sign, but it was changed in the early 1930s to neon. In 1961, the Fairfield Planning Commission suggested the sign be taken down because it was in disrepair. A firestorm of local protest killed that idea and instead the sign was spruced up by being painted blue and given some detailed work in white and yellow.
Today, some of the letters don’t light up and according to Mike Gray, Fairfield public works manager, the culprit is the neon.
He describes the sign as an “ongoing maintenance headache” because finding contractors willing to tackle the tricky neon is difficult. Plans are being made to hopefully switch it to something more stable while still keeping the landmark’s nostalgic look.
For many locals, the Fairfield sign is a source of connection and pride.
Harold Hesseltine: In 1957, we moved to Fairfield and the sign was the first thing my dad pointed out. “This is our new home.”
Catherine Moy: The red light above it was like the Batman signal back in the day. When activated, police knew there was action.
Mark Smith: The officer on the beat would see the red light on, go to the call box and call to see where the trouble was.
Tanja Duncan: Other than the fact that I like the colors and design of the sign and it gives me that “homey” feeling, I really love the fact that it says “county seat.” Whenever I saw the sign, it always gave me a sense of pride, that out of all the other towns in Solano, Fairfield is the “county seat.” Like in a way, we were small-town royalty.
Judy Leetham: I was away at college and my mom sent me an article about the City Council talking about taking the sign down. I wrote a letter to Manuel Campos, who used to live across the street from us and was either the mayor or a councilman at the time, and really poured out the horror I felt. He later told my dad: “I took that to the council and we decided we’d better not touch it with a 10-foot pole” and they decided to leave the sign alone. After that, my mom always referred to the Fairfield sign as “Judy’s sign.” Nice to be “famous” for something, huh?
Robert Jordan: Even though I’ve lived in Sacramento for 25 years now, driving under the Fairfield sign still means “I’m home.”
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.