Why is the 'N' in the Colorado Springs Welcome Sign Upside Down?

Jan 17, 2017

Peak Curiosity is a new, community-driven reporting series from 91.5 KRCC. We ask listeners to submit their questions about the Pikes Peak region and Southern Colorado, and then we answer them. Scroll down to the bottom of this post to submit your question!

In this, our first installment of Peak Curiosity, we've got a question from Mark Medrano of Security-Widefield. Mark's a computer programmer who works for a company based in Denver, and his question is about something he noticed one day while driving back into Colorado Springs on I-25:

"Why is the 'N' on the "COLORADO SPRINGS" sign seen from southbound I-25 upside down?"

If you've ever driven on I-25, you surely know the sign he's talking about. But, if you're like me, you've probably never noticed anything weird about the N. In fact, I wasn't really sure how an N could be upside down. But Mark, who apparently knows a thing or two about fonts, explained.

"When you look at typefaces a lot," he says, "especially I think they're called serifs—where letters have little flares at the ends—you notice that for the capital N, it has that flare at the top left, whereas for the Colorado Springs sign, it has it at the bottom right."

The sign (above), as compared to a similar serif-style font (below)

He's right.

To help answer the question of how the N came to be upside down, I reached out to Crystal Collette. Collette served for many years as volunteer director of a group called The Partnership for Community Design, which was a non-profit formed in the late 80s to spearhead beautification projects around Colorado Springs. One of their first projects was installing the sign on I-25, which they felt was sorely needed at the time.

"We had a green sign out there that said welcome to 'COLO SPGS,' which was quite a pet peeve for everyone on our board," says Collette. "We couldn't even get a sign spelling out our name, it was 'COLO SPGS.'"

The group spent five years raising money for the new sign, which cost about $70,000, according to reports from the time.

"There was no government funding involved in that project, it was all private funding, so it took a while to raise the money," she explains.  

The sign was installed in the fall of 1993. The concrete was cast in place, right there beside highway. Kevin Brooker is the owner of Mel-Ro construction, the company that built it. He says another contractor designed and built the letters for the sign, which he and his crew used to mold the concrete.

"I just think that everyone is proud of it no matter what, and we're glad its there and that we have it to welcome people."

Somehow, as they placed the letter molds against the concrete forms, Brooker says the N was accidentally rotated.

"It looked right at the time because we were seeing it in reverse, because the concrete was cast against the letter," he recalls.

Brooker says they realized the mistake as soon as they pulled away the molds. He says he offered to fix it, but the people he talked to who were involved with the project didn't think it necessary.

"They all agreed that they liked the way it looked, and that it actually brought character to the sign," says Brooker.

Crystal Collette says she wasn't told about the mistake at the time. As director of the Partnership, she was more involved in the finances of the project than the design. She says it was several years before she noticed it.

"I received a phone call from a gentleman that was with, I think like a sign printing company," says Collette, "and he said 'I'm just calling to tell you that the N in your entryway sign is upside down.'"

She couldn't believe it.  

"At the time, it felt disastrous to all of us, because we had put so many hours and so much time into making this happen. It felt devastating."

Collette says the group discussed their options, but ultimately decided there wasn't much they could do.

"What we didn't want to do was try to fix it, and have it looking tacky and falling apart."

So they left it, and they figured most people simply wouldn't notice. They turned out to be right. Collette says she has only received two calls about the sign—including mine—since it was installed. A city parks official said the same.  

Credit Courtesy of Crystal Collette, Partnership for Community Design

Now, all these years later, Collette says the initial disappointment has long passed, and she doesn't worry about the sign's small imperfection anymore. When she drives by, she sees an impressive monument to a great city.

"Yes, it has a minor flaw, but I'm proud of the project," she explains. "I'm glad the green COLO SPGS sign is no longer there. I just think that everyone is proud of it no matter what, and we're glad it's there and that we have it to welcome people."

Just a word of caution, don't look too closely when you're driving 75 miles an hour on the freeway.

Big thanks to listener Mark Medrano for tipping us off to this story.

If you've got a question about Colorado Springs or Southern Colorado that you'd like us to investigate, submit it below!

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