Category Archives: Major U.S. Cities

Washington, D.C.

Last week I took a short trip to our nation’s capital to attend a conference for work.  I was not able to build any personal time into this trip for photography, but luckily I captured the Washington, D.C., welcome sign on a trip in the spring of 2008.

Bladensburg Road (westbound on Maryland Route 450)

I like this sign.  The brick foundation is solid, and the adornments at the top of the sign reflect the character of American colonial architecture.  Below the welcome message are the symbols that make up Washington, D.C.’s flag: the three red stars above two red horizontal bars are taken from the coat of arms of George Washington.

My trip to Washington last week was short and sweet – not unlike this post!  Stay tuned for some special holiday-themed welcome signs throughout the second half of December.

New Orleans

The Big Easy.  Crescent City.   The City that Care Forgot.

With all of these great nicknames, I expected New Orleans to have a distinctive welcome sign.  Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

My visit to NOLA this week was to attend a conference, but I built in some extra time to search the city for the welcome sign.  This was actually my second attempt to find the Nawlins welcome sign; I came up empty three years ago on another work-related visit.

The only sign I was able to find was this one in the airport.  It greets visitors as they descend into the baggage claim area.  The (boring) visual of the city’s skyline also features a space for (tacky) electronic advertising.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I normally do not photograph welcome signs in airports.  But I snapped this shot upon departure after I came up short in my efforts while scouring the city’s borders.

But all was not lost.  Approaching Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport on Veterans Boulevard on my way to catch my flight home, not only was I treated to aircraft takeoffs on Runway 1/19, but I found a farewell sign!  This sign almost makes up for the lack of a welcome sign.  It incorporates icons of New Orleans: a fleur-de-lis, a trumpet, and the Mississippi River.  The globe seems out of place, but otherwise it’s an impressive sign.

There was no place to stop along the roadway to snap this shot – did I mention it is adjacent to an active runway? – so I actually took this while driving, with the camera perched precariously on the steering wheel.  After nearly five years of photographing welcome signs, this is the first one that I was forced to take while driving.  (And this shot was my second go-around!)

 

Although it is also nicknamed America’s Most Interesting City, New Orleans turned out to be the least interesting of my visit to the River Region (in terms of welcome signs, that is).  My trip report featuring welcome signs from two state capitals will continue in the coming days.  And an unexpected surprise was waiting for me in Mississippi.

Fairbanks

Fairbanks, home to 35,000 people, is the second-largest city in Alaska; the surrounding boroughs swell the metro area to nearly 100,000.  Founded in 1901 on the banks of the Chena River, Fairbanks grew quickly when gold was discovered nearby in 1902.  But the city fell on hard times when the reserves of easily accessible gold were depleted a decade later.  Additional influxes of permanent residents occurred during periods of construction: the Alaska Railroad in the 1920s and the Trans-Alaska pipeline in the 1970s.

As the oil flowing through the Trans-Alaska pipeline slows due to dwindling reserves in the Arctic, the economy has come to rely on tourism, and the city itself retains a boom/bust feeling.  The downtown area is tired and worn, while the airport terminal is new and creates a modern space for visitors traveling by air.  And the Museum of the North on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks is visually stunning.  In addition to the extremes in architecture, the climate  is extreme.  Temperatures can plunge to more than -50 degrees in the winter when the sun shines for less than four hours per day.  In contrast, the sun is visible for more than 21 hours a day during the summer solstice.

In the welcome sign department, Fairbanks competes with Anchorage: the city boasts three welcome signs (although they are more dispersed those in Anchorage) and each one is unique.  And there is a fourth bonus sign for the downtown area.

The first sign is located at the airport exit and although not particularly eye-catching, it is a good effort.  It includes the motto that was bestowed upon the city by the Fairbanks Commercial Club in 1911 – the Golden Heart City.

This second sign is drab and dull.

The third sign reflects the city’s motto in a more subtle fashion: although it might be hard to see, the golden flowers on the left are in the shape of a heart.

And, last but not least, is this sign in downtown Fairbanks.  Unfortunately it is located in the parking lot of a bank and not in a spot that would normally be considered welcoming.

Anchorage

I am vacationing in Alaska this week, and my only rule is to stop for any and all welcome signs.

The first city on my itinerary is Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city and home to nearly half of the state’s population.  Many visitors might miss the three – yes, three – welcome signs that are all within in a one-mile stretch on International Airport Road when entering the city from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.  Luckily I was able to tear my eyes away from the imposing peaks on the horizon long enough to notice the signs.

(Truth be told, I noticed the signs before the mountains.  I’m just wired that way.)

Here they are, in order of appearance.

 

I must admit that the natural scenery is more interesting than these signs.  They don’t exhibit a lot of character.  But then again, neither does Anchorage.

Although I’ve only been in Anchorage a short time, my impression is one of a nondescript city, a bit rough around the edges.  Much like the signs.  But the simple fact that there are three signs is impressive.  Anchorage has more welcome signs than I any other city I have visited (yet).