A community-led effort has sparked new life and a new home for the historic “Hi! Let’s Eat” sign in Lompoc.
Ending a saga to rescue and restore the sign, it will be installed in front of American Host Restaurant at 113 North I St., with plans to celebrate its return during an unveiling ceremony at 5 p.m. Dec. 9.
“I just feel like it’s a fitting new home,” said American Host owner Dennis Block, who has lived in Lompoc since 1972. “I think the community feels that way from what I’ve heard. We’re proud and feel privileged to have the opportunity to continue the legacy of the sign and keep some history.”
American Host, which opened in 1982, has taken on the role as the spot where locals gather regularly since Hi’s Restaurant closed, Block said in explaining why he happily agreed to host the sign.
More than five years ago, the Lompoc Valley Historical Society stepped up to rescue the sign when it was headed for the landfill as the old restaurant building’s site became home to a new Starbucks on East Ocean Street.
The sign has been a Lompoc landmark since the 1960s, when the site on the 400 block of East Ocean Avenue was home to Hi’s Restaurant, the go-to place for breakfast. Later, it became Jalama Beach Cafe, which closed before Starbucks moved in.
Through the years, the one consistency awaiting customers was the cheerful “Hi! Let’s Eat” sign perched at the corner of Ocean and South E Street.
Upon learning of the property sale and planning for the sign’s future, Karen Paaske, then president of the Lompoc Valley Historical Society, figured she could find the sign a new home at the organization’s property only to have people question the location at the Victorian home housing the city’s past.
Others strongly felt the sign should remain in Old Town Lompoc, she said.
Before the old building’s demolition, volunteers took down the sign with an eye toward restoring it. About the same time, American Host’s owner stepped up to say he wanted the sign.
“He was so excited. He still is. He’s so enthusiastic about it,” Paaske said.
Paaske wasn’t knowledgeable about sign permitting or restoration, leading her to learn about both along with patience.
Two major donors with Lompoc connections agreed to fund the restoration by a Southern California sign company, but the firm ended up being too costly.
“That all fell apart and ate up a lot of time,” Paaske said.
Volunteers agreed to handle the restoration work locally with businesses and individuals filling various roles such as removing thick coats of paint, upgrading electrical equipment and prepping the new site for the sign’s installation.
“There are quite a few players that made this happen locally,” Block said.
As delays occurred, Paaske said city staff had been “wonderful” in helping ensure permits remained valid.
They also have worked to raise funds. Recently, the GoFundMe page encouraged donors to sponsor a light bulb for $20 — “There are 280 of them on the sign!”
“We got a lot of contributions for twenty bucks here, twenty bucks there,” Paaske said. “Very much a community effort. There’s so many fond memories of the restaurant.”
Despite being displayed at American Host, the Historical Society will retain ownership of the sign.
“I’m just basically going to be the steward of the sign and take care of it throughout the years,” Block said.
American Host closes in the afternoon, but plans call for having the sign lit up for a few hours each night to illuminate Lompoc’s past.
“I was beginning to think it wasn’t ever going to happen,” Paaske said. “I’m so thrilled that it’s actually happening, and I hope the people of Lompoc enjoy the sign.”