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Landmarks: Flamingo sign a piece of Santa Rosa history

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012 | Posted by

The Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

By MELODY KARPINSKI / Santa Rosa Correspondent

For more than 50 years, the bright pink lights of Santa Rosa’s Flamingo Resort have lit up the corner of Fourth Street and Farmers Lane, a vintage piece of the city’s history.

The glowing, rotating flamingo in all of its nine-foot glory atop the vertical letters may be the most recognizable portion of the resort, christened “an underrated landmark” by the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Our neon glass tubes are all hand blown glass,” said Ray Neusmeyer, the resort’s chief engineer. “Neon lights are done by footage, and our sign tower has approximately 1,600-2,000 feet of tubes.

“The motor was new and high-tech for its time, but the motor and pulley system has been replaced as parts break down. We try to stay with the same type of setup so as not to change the sign.”

Although the resort is a hometown project, its sign mirrors that of the Las Vegas Flamingo, which was opened in 1946 by mobster Bugsy Siegel. While the Las Vegas Flamingo’s sign changed, Santa Rosa’s has not.

At the sign’s dedication as a historic landmark, a time capsule was installed within it. The capsule contents include a bottle of Korbel champagne, a signed copy of a Press Democrat photographer’s Pulitzer Prize and an autographed book from Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schultz.

“The time capsule will be opened in 2017 as part of the resort’s 40th anniversary celebration,” said Dan Brown, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.

It was almost lost. The original flamingo was removed in 1986, a violation of city ordinances written long after the resort opened. Owner Pierre Ehret petitioned the city a decade later to grant it landmark status, allowing for a new pink bird to perch on top of the tower.

The original flamingo was removed in 1986 due to a violation of city ordinances written long after the resort opened in 1957. A 1996 petition from Flamingo owner Pierre Ehret resulted in the city granting the sign landmark status, allowing for the restoration of a new pink bird to perch on top of the tower.

In the resort’s heyday between the ’50s and ’60s, the Flamingo became know as the place to be for socialites and Hollywood stars. Actresses like Jane Wyman and Julie Andrews lodged at the resort, along with former president Ronald Reagan.

“Don Draper would’ve stayed here -but he wouldn’t have liked our no-smoking policy!” said Brown.

More recently, Patrick Dempsey lodged at the Flamingo before racing in the Gran Fondo in October. Aside from hosting Hollywood royalty, the Flamingo’s iconic sign has even made cameo appearances in recent films. The 2001 Bruce Willis film Bandits features the bright, pink bird -although in the movie the hotel is supposed to be in Mexico.

It’s an endeavor that will continue in the years to come for the landmark, but in the meantime the lanky bird will continue to blithely watch Santa Rosa from above.

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Ann Hutchinson is our Santa Rosa correspondent.
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