The decorative signs guiding locals and visitors to and through downtown Napa may soon get a fresh look after nearly two decades.
Weathered wood along with metal shaped in a vine row-style motif would mark a fresh package of directional markers – possibly including a pedestal-mounted panel at the traffic roundabouts being built near Highway 29 – as part of a proposal shown to the City Council this week.
The signs would route drivers and pedestrians into various city districts such the Oxbow and Riverfront, parking areas and the downtown welcome center, replacing increasingly timeworn and faded markers that were first raised in 2001 when the city’s rise as a vacation destination was in its early stages.
Prototypes displayed by Hunt Design of Pasadena include horizontal and vertical versions of monument-type markers to be installed at a downtown gateway, possibly the trio of roundabouts that will funnel motorists Highway 29 onto First and Second streets east toward the city’s heart. The signs would include reclaimed wood as a homage to the barrels used by Napa Valley wineries, and slow-rusting Cor-Ten steel to symbolize the city’s historic downtown buildings, according to Emily Morishita, a senior designer for Hunt.
A circular medallion would bear the title “DOWNTOWN NAPA” using the same font as the city government’s newest logo, introduced in 2015. Also carried over from the municipal logo would be the curving, parallel bars that symbolize hills and grapevine rows, which would be replicated in the monument’s metalwork.
Slimmer, column-like panels in the same design theme would mark the entrances to the Oxbow District east of downtown and the Riverfront to the south. Elsewhere downtown, pole-mounted signs would include directional markers toward public parking and street maps for those traversing the neighborhood on foot.
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In addition to keeping visitors on the right path, the modernized markers should improve traffic flow and reduce congestion by enabling drivers to park and leave their cars quicker, Morishita said.
The wayfinder package appeared to gain quick support from council members, who described them as overdue even for those already living in Napa – and a good match for the city’s character.
“I find people in downtown Napa who are lost, and that’s not just people visiting here, it’s people who live here, looking for parking and all kinds of things,” said Liz Alessio. As for the use of weathered materials, she added, “it does really feel like Napa. We like to take the old and historic and preserve it, and give it a new purpose and new life so I think it reflects that.”
Downtown Napa’s original wayfinder sign package originally included 40 panels in a green-and-maroon color scheme, with circled arrows leading passers-by to the Napa Valley Wine Train, Oxbow Public Market and other sites. But at least a dozen signs have been removed due to wear and tear or construction projects, while others have been patched with blank spaces covering the names of now-defunct locales like the Cinedome theater.
The 2014 conversion of downtown east-to-west streets into two-way routes also left drivers looking into the backs of markers designed to face in only one direction of traffic.
Napa would pay for a sign overhaul using $75,000 left over from the city’s redevelopment agency, which California dissolved in 2011 along with similar agencies statewide.