Boyd sign raises ‘red’ flag

Betty BeanUncategorized

Note: Updated from earlier post.

I never paid much attention to the dingy old rooftop water tower overlooking Jackson Avenue just east of the Old City. Although it said “Knox Rail Salvage” on one side, it wasn’t much of an advertisement, since the named retail outlet is a block or two north, facing Magnolia Avenue.

And while it couldn’t have been considered as iconic as the JFG sign or Cas Walker’s shears, it had been there for who knows how long, and obviously pre-dated the city’s rigorous new rooftop sign ordinance banning such structures (with exceptions for works of art and “heritage” signs).

It fit the grungy industrial ambiance of the warehouse district that it overlooks.

But now that it’s morphed into a fire engine red “Elect Randy Boyd Governor” political advertisement, attention must be paid. Drive south on the Hall of Fame Bridge and try not to look.

You can’t.

Ozymandias-like, it proclaims, “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” and has caused much social media discussion.

The new sign has infuriated those who supported Magpies Bakery owner Peg Hambright, who designed whimsical egg and butter figures that she planned to mount atop her building. Her plan was thwarted when city sign guy Peter Ahrens ruled that it didn’t meet the rooftop sign ordinance exemption for works of art.

Ahrens was out of town this week and unavailable for comment. But a member of the city’s law department suggested that a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Reed v. Gilbert, could enable the sign on the basis of free speech.

That ruling was written by Justice Clarence Thomas. It is so broad as to overturn most sign ordinances across the country, Justice Elena Kagan opined in a concurring opinion. She agreed only as to the decision to allow the Good News Community Church and its pastor, Clyde Reed, to post directional signs to church services held weekly in various parts of the town of Gilbert, Arizona.

The old Knox Rail Salvage water tower might have been considered art, in an Edward Hopper-ish kind of way. Photographer Bill Foster said he often used it as a background landmark when shooting photos of artists performing in Old City music events.

But the building it bestrides is part of the parcel Boyd bought for a future downtown baseball stadium and he can do with it as he pleases.

However, Boyd’s friends say it wasn’t Boyd’s idea to turn the old sign into a political billboard so big and so red it can be seen many blocks away.

Knox Rail Salvage vice president Joel Piper said he’s the one who changed the look, and that Boyd had nothing to do with the transformation. He wonders why anyone is bothered by it, since the tower has been there for decades.

“The sign used to be yellow with red writing. Now it’s red with white writing,” he said. “We’re supporting Randy for governor, so we went ahead and paid a guy to paint it. (Randy’s) a very sincere and ethical person, and we know his background in business and with Tennessee Promise and as state finance commissioner. We’re proud to support him.”

Whether it’s a simple change of paint on a heritage sign, a work of art or free speech, the sign issue won’t go away. And since the election’s not until November 2018, the sign could need a second coat by then.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.