Baton Passes To SOHO For Neon Majorette
By Barry E. Hager
Generations of San Diegans instantly recognize the Neon Majorette Sign, a local landmark and part of San Diego's culture and scenery for over five decades. The 4-story tall historical neon sign depicts a San Diego State University drum majorette, and currently calls College Grove Shopping Center its home.
On July 2, 2001, ownership of the Majorette passed, by way of donation from Vestar Development Co., owner of College Grove Shopping Center, to SOHO. As part of the donation, Vestar has agreed to remain responsible for financial and physical maintenance of the Majorette, and to keep it lit during nighttime operating hours for the shopping center. SOHO has an easement for access and the right to remove the Majorette, although it will remain at the College Grove Shopping Center for the foreseeable future.
The history of the Majorette is as colorful as the sign itself, which has survived the demolition of two prior locations and several years of storage. She was originally built in 1947 for the Campus Drive-In Theater, the largest drive-in theater on the West Coast at that time. The sign was affixed against a mural on the back of the movie screen, which depicted the San Diego State University bell tower quadrangle, football goalposts, and background mountains, one with a white "S" on it. The Campus drive-in was located at the corner of El Cajon Boulevard and College Avenue.
Austin Linn Gray and Joe Schmidt, two San Diegans, are credited with the design of the Majorette. It is believed that Gray used as a model for the sign a photograph of Marion Caster Heatherly Baker, a top California drum majorette in the 1940's and head drum majorette at San Diego High School, class of 1943, at San Diego State College, the Naval Training Center, and later the Los Angeles Rams.
The Majorette has achieved national notoriety, and has been featured in Life and Time magazines, as well as various calendars and books.
In 1983, the Campus Drive-In was demolished, for development of a new shopping center. At that time, the Majorette was donated to Save Our Neon Organisation, which packed the sign in a crate and stored it in a downtown warehouse. In 1985 the sign was restored and installed at the newly renovated Marketplace at the Grove. It was placed at the Mann Theater at College Grove, where it stayed until 1998, when the shopping center was again renovated as College Grove Center.
Despite several changes in its surroundings, the popularity of the Majorette with San Diegans has not waned. It is reported that over 8,000 people attended the relighting ceremony in 1998, an event aired by several major television stations in San Diego.
Under SOHO's ownership, the Majorette is certain to remain a part of San Diego's identity for generations to come.
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