Adirondack Signage, Pt II: A Modern Preservation Esthetic

Last summer, I wrote a short post on signage in the Adirondack Park, featuring a few images from venues in-or-near Old Forge and Lowville, NY. This year my family and I vacationed in the Adirondacks once again, and I did some new research into sign esthetics in the Keene Valley/Lake Placid region. This time I saw growing evidence of modern design influencing the established wood-substrate stylings prolific throughout the historic preserve.

Simple, striking graphics at Big Crow

Simple, striking graphics at Big Crow

Liquids and Solids restaurant goes full-on retro to create a hip feel

Liquids and Solids restaurant goes full-on retro to create a hip feel

Liquids & Solids exterior mural

Liquids & Solids exterior mural

"Junk Deco" at Liquids & Solids

"Junk Deco" at Liquids & Solids

Good Rules = Good Looks

Regulations in New York's scenic Adirondack State Park foster an appealing and identifiable regional style.

The prevalence of super cool wooden signs in the region (which tend to be fairly expensive to make) is something I've always noticed but never really thought about until last year. So, I did some checking around to learn more about what's behind this classic staple of Adirondack design.

According to New York State law, commercial signage within the bounds of the Adirondack Park must conform to certain standards meant to protect the appeal of the park's spellbinding natural beauty for the sake of both tourists and residents. Back in 1924, billboards were banned altogether. The rules for all other signs include prohibition of: neon and other glaringly luminous lighting; signs or banners that move or rotate; and, attaching signs to any natural object other than the ground. Certain restrictions also dictate the number, size and location of signs relative to a business location. 

Perhaps most importantly, signs must be made of natural materials such as wood, stone or brick. This has resulted in a robust collection of mostly wooden signage, which are often artistically designed and hand-crafted. Even the sign on the Lake Placid Rite Aid is made of wood that appears to be hand-carved. The likes of such a proliferation are hard to find anywhere else.

For decades, the Adirondack Park has been known for it's familiar utilitarian road signs, with their instantly recognizable brown backgrounds and gold lettering. The park is the largest state park in the US, and unlike most national parks, there are many homes and businesses. The brown and gold signs, along with the more varied and subtle wooden commercial signs, are what let you know you are somewhere special.

Classic Adirondack Park welcome sign, displayed at a vintage goods shop

Classic Adirondack Park welcome sign, displayed at a vintage goods shop

Nostaligic, old-style township welcome sign

Nostaligic, old-style township welcome sign

Classic Sign Art in the Park

Wooden signage tends to be crafted with an artistic approach not typically seen with plastic, metal, vinyl, etc. – the types of signs that are far more common in other areas. Below are a few of the older signs I came across, with a more vintage feel to them.

Aging hand-made sign at Lake Placid Airport

A little art deco revival at the Northway Motel

A little art deco revival at the Northway Motel

At the Woodlake Inn, Lake Placid

At the Woodlake Inn, Lake Placid

The Cascade Inn (named for Cascade Mountain, the one-and-only Adirondack High Peak I have climbed).

The Cascade Inn (named for Cascade Mountain, the one-and-only Adirondack High Peak I have climbed).

Moose-loveing bowling alley in Lake Placid

Moose-loveing bowling alley in Lake Placid

The Middle Earth sign, below, is one of my favorites. It is more classic than modern, but it has elements of both. I just love the colors and the ample exposure of the natural wood substrate, which has grown darker over time and altered the contrast.

Middle Earth Expeditions by Wayne Failing, Licensed Adirondack Guide

Middle Earth Expeditions by Wayne Failing, Licensed Adirondack Guide

This one is oh so swanky. I bet he's expensive. But I do love his sign. Somehow everything about it has a really newish sort of oldness going on. Hmm …

John T. Wilkins, attorney. This guy is undoubtedly a snappy dresser.

John T. Wilkins, attorney. This guy is undoubtedly a snappy dresser.

Modern Influences

At several locations, mostly in Keene and Keene Valley, I was impressed and excited to see some excellent examples of more modern, clean design elements mixed with touches of the classic Adirondack vibe. Here are some of my favorites (to go with Big Crow Trading, at the top of this post):

That's some classy syrup right there.

That's some classy syrup right there.

Mountain java. (Seriously, though? They had the best mocha I've ever tasted.)

Mountain java. (Seriously, though? They had the best mocha I've ever tasted.)

Who's ready for tree pose?

Who's ready for tree pose?

Dartbrook Lodge, with their picture-perfect plantings.

Dartbrook Lodge, with their picture-perfect plantings.

ADK Market. "Our food is so good, you'll need two forks."

ADK Market. "Our food is so good, you'll need two forks."

Standards Are a Happy Thing

Let's expand on this a bit. 

I think, when you see how the rules have been applied in the Adirondacks, it's easy to get a visceral sense of the way in which consistent standards affect a brand. By adopting (and strictly enforcing) certain guidelines, wise preservationist influences have done a great service to the region. When you are in the Adirondack Park, you know it. You know you are in a differentiated, historic place that is worthy of reverence and respect. You know you are "away." Without these standards, what would be different? Development in the park is limited, so fortunately we should never find any excessive density there. But other than that, what else could create the sense of place that is so clear there?

I hope all our readers have been to, or will get to visit, the Adirondack Park at some point. And, if you do, I hope you will take some extra time to notice the commercial esthetics and appreciate how disciplined, well considered rules about fluffy things like graphic design have had a positive impact.

Be well, and please keep in touch!

Kindly,
Melissa

1895 Marvin Washburn Commissioner