After nearly 45 years, new redwood sign graces main campus entrance

After more than four decades, the old UCSC sign was showing its age.
From left, Jim Dunne, Jon Scofield, and Frank Locatelli from UCSC Physical Plant guide the new sign into place, and a new era begins. (Photos by Guy Lasnier)
Sign carver Chris Stinehour used a mallet and chisels to cut the letters on the new campus sign. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

Out with the old and in with the new.

After nearly 45 years of service, the iconic redwood sign at UCSC's main entrance has been replaced with a new iconic redwood sign.

Campus crews hoisted the original off its concrete pedestal Monday morning and in its place lowered a nearly identical redwood timber carved with "University of California Santa Cruz" in gold letters.

"I am delighted we were able to maintain the natural character and simplicity of the original sign," Chancellor Blumenthal said. "The redwood is a symbol of how this university campus blends into the land on which it is built."

Over the years, weather, termites and dry rot took their toll on the original sign. One end had started to disintegrate. Holes and soft spots are scattered throughout.

Jim Dunne, associate director of physical plant, said he knew it was only a matter of time for the old sign so a couple of years ago he asked Frank "Lud" McCrary of Big Creek Lumber if he could help him find a new piece of redwood - a big piece. Something that size is hard to come by these days. At first, McCrary didn't think he had anything big enough. Then he remembered a fallen snag that had lain on his daughter's property off Swanton Road for 25 years.

The old redwood snag had stood, although dead and scarred, for at least 100 years, probably a lot longer. Fire had hollowed its once 28-foot girth into a semi-circle of charred wood. Then it fell, undermined by a surging Scott Creek swollen by the torrential rains that inundated Santa Cruz County in January 1982, McCrary recalled.

The McCrary family agreed to donate the fallen log to UCSC. Dunne and McCrary raised it and trucked it to the sawmill. After more than a dozen cuts, an inch at a time, a beautiful rectangle of solid redwood emerged, identical to the original, give or take half an inch. It's nearly 24 feet long, 44 inches high, and 19 inches thick, with clean, clear grain. The backside is uneven at one end, displaying the ravages of an ancient forest fire.

The next challenge was finding the right artist to carve the front. Enter Chris Stinehour of Berkeley, who works with architects and designers. Stinehour based his design on the original letters, producing three sample layouts. "Once you get to carving, all the hard work is done," he said. "You just have to work with the material."

Over several months, a day at a time, Stinehour visited Santa Cruz to carve, using razor-sharp chisels and a wooden mallet, cutting letter by letter against the wood's grain. You don't want to carve with the grain, Stinehour said, otherwise "the grain might take you somewhere you don't want to go."

Once the letters were cut, Stinehour primed the interior faces and painted them gold. "I hope they get another 40 years out of it," he said.

The McCrarys donated the giant timber for the original sign, too. Monday, some 43 years later, it was placed on a flatbed and trucked back to Big Creek. There, McCrary hopes to find enough solid wood to mill into something useful, perhaps shakes for historic buildings in the area. "We don't want to waste it," he said.