Our town like all others has a forest of signs that identify businesses and beckon potential customers to enter and look around. We don’t give them much thought until one that’s been there for over 60-years is suddenly slated for a trip to the landfill.
One such sign in our city has been saved through the hard work of several dedicated people who appreciate history, even the commercial kind.
Hi’s restaurant was an icon to Lompoc when it was in operation. Local farmers, mechanics, aerospace workers, miners from the diatomite plant, ranchers, business owner/operators, judges, lawyers, and others met, discussed the day’s events, and ate there as regular customers.
When I arrived in town in 1975 and asked “where’s a good place to eat” the answer was Hi’s.
At the time the town was less than half the population it is today, and there were very few places to eat. It wasn’t until the ill-fated Space Shuttle program began construction that the town doubled in size and many new eateries appeared on the scene.
It was at the height of shuttle complex construction activities that Dennis Block opened the American Host restaurant; since then, his constant attention to trying to please his customers has led to an expansion from counter space and take out only to having two dining rooms that are usually full of loyal customers munching on big plates of food.
In 2017 a national coffee house acquired the Hi’s property and planned to remove the old building and replace it with a modern coffee stop. The iconic sign that brought tens of thousands of satisfied customers to sit and eat would be torn down and tossed away because it didn’t conform to the company’s branding for their locations.
During the planning commission hearings for the new development folks asked: “What’s going to happen to the sign?”
After some discussion the developers said they would be willing to give the sign to the Lompoc Valley Historical Society. The historians readily agreed and began a fund-raising campaign to repair the metal sign worn by decades of exposure to the of damp weather in Lompoc.
According to a Noozhawk report: “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.”
Noozhawk also reported that “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.”
When the owner of the American Host Restaurant found out the sign was available, he sprang into action. He agreed the sign could be displayed on his property a few blocks from the old location. It took five years and lots of work to restore the sign, but the Historical Society agreed this was a good location to show case their work.
The city planning staff and building department were very helpful throughout the process, and granted permit extensions until the volunteer project could be completed.
Finally, on Dec. 9 a crowd gathered to welcome the sign to its new location. The sign was restored to its previous and historically correct condition and placed in its new resting place.
Once again, “Hi Let’s Eat” beckons farmers, mechanics, aerospace workers, ranchers, business owner/operators, judges, lawyers, retirees, and others to sit and talk while enjoying a well-prepared meal thanks to the contributions by locals, and hard work of the historical society, local contractors, and a welcoming business owner.