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Fifth Avenue Style

(August 2010) posted on Fri Jul 23, 2010

CREO rejuvenates a landmark Seattle theatre with luminous signage.

By Todd Fuhs

click an image below to view slideshow

Todd Fuhs is a senior project manager for CREO Industrial Arts (Everett, WA).


In February 2008, Cathy Johnstone, the 5th Avenue Theatre’s (Seattle) director of facility operations, con-tacted us regarding a new exterior sign for the property. CREO (known as SignTech at that time) had fabricated its existing exterior signage back in the mid 1990s, and we participated in brainstorming discussions regarding a new, vertical marquee that we hoped to build when funding allowed.

She explained that a donor had expressed interest in funding a new marquee reminiscent of the vertical one that existed when the theater opened in 1926. Between February and July 2008, the theater’s management team invited CREO to preliminary discussions regarding various concepts for the new design. They wanted general guidelines regarding signage possibilities attainable with their available budget.

In July 2008, funding was secured, with the overwhelming majority derived from the donor’s contribution. That budget required proportional distribution between design and fabrication/installation. For the $300,000 allocated to the project, design, electrical work, structural testing and electric programming required $100,000; fabrication comprised the rest.



Design and fabrication decisions

The Seattle office of NBBJ, an architecture/environmental-graphics firm, designed its ideal sign based on client input and CREO’s general guidelines. Then, CREO analyzed that hypothetical sign’s cost relative to the available budget. Some sign elements were non-negotiable: size, function and materials. For other aspects, CREO specified options and corresponding costs for budget optimization. After three design revisions, the team selected a design that achieved both the desired aesthetics while respecting budgetary limits.

As NBBJ’s design intent unfolded, CREO provided material samples – painted aluminum, acrylic, screenprinted patterns, etc. – and general fabrication information to help focus design details. Once the design’s scale, color and function crystallized, CREO fabricated a full-size cabinet section (approximately 3 x 4 ft.) that included dimensional, layered materials with a few LED bulb options with differing colors, brightnesses and shapes.

The mockup also showed different animation options for the bulbs’ illumination, chasing and scintillating functions. To ensure optimal readability, we viewed the prototype in daylight and darkness.


Time to build

As fabrication began, we addressed programming the sign’s lighting. The sign required 12 different lighting regions, and the theater wanted maximum control and flexibility for illumination. The light show needed to vary for different theater events, which meant CREO had to deliver a fairly sophisticated, electrical-control assembly.


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