Philadelphia Sign Climbs to the Top with High-Rise Signage

Skyscrapers: Paralleling the Growth of America’s Cities

The late 1880s saw the rise of skyscrapers in the US. Skyscrapers were the answer to a growing demand for more center city real estate, to accommodate an expanding workforce in America’s burgeoning cities.

A common feature of all early skyscrapers was the use of steel or iron frames with suspended curtain walls, rather than conventional load-bearing walls. Chicago was the home to the first skyscraper, the HomeLife Building, a 10-story structure built in 1885. However, there were earlier prototypes, including the 10-story Jayne Building, 1850, in Philadelphia, and the seven-floor Equitable Life Assurance Building, built in New York in 1870. The exteriors of these original skyscrapers were built with a classical Greek and Italian aesthetic, reflected in their ornate decorative details.

Home Life Insurance Building Chicago 1884

HomeLife Insurance Building in Chicago, IL

In 1932, Philadelphia became the home of America’s first modern ‘International’ style skyscraper, the iconic Philadelphia Saving Fund Society (PSFS) building, designed by Swiss-born William Lescaze and American George Howe. The hallmark of the design was the unadorned, simple limestone façade with ribbons of windows running the length of the steel-framed structure. This 33-story modern high-rise was possible because of technological innovations we take for granted today: reliable elevators, electric fluorescent lighting, plumbing, and central air conditioning. The PSFS Building, now a Loews Hotel, was the first building of its size in the US to feature central air, only one of two in the country at the time to make the claim. It also boasted an observation deck open to the public.

Electric signage on early high-rise buildings was uncommon. Many skyscraper towers of the day were simply highlighted with flood lamps. However, the PSFS building was designed to be topped with very distinctive signage: 2 sets of 26-foot tall, neon letters bearing the initials of the institution.


PSFS Signage atop the Loews Building in Philadelphia, PA after the completion of the LED custom retrofit

High-Rise Signage: Elevating Brand Awareness

When it comes to impactful branding, your logo towering over a city skyline has no equal. Tower signage is usually reserved for the main tenant, given leasing rights to essentially brand an entire building. A testament to the power of high-rise branding: as in the PSFS example, high-rise signs can become so much a part of regional consciousness, the brand outlives the company itself!

As architectural innovations led to taller and taller buildings, more companies realized the potential for using the exterior real estate for advertising. Initially, towers were topped with flood-lit cut-out lettering or capped with vibrant neon. While greater height meant greater visibility, maintaining these types of signs, like neon, became a liability for the companies that owned the signage.

Today’s high-rise sign options range from channel letters to dynamic digital displays. Advances in more durable materials and low maintenance technology have helped raise the popularity of high-rise signs.

In 2016, Philadelphia Sign was tapped by Loews Hotel to refurbish the aging neon PSFS sign. After careful inspection and analysis, the determination was made to retrofit the outdated neon with an LED fixture, designed to replicate the look of the original signage. The new LED lighting also gave the option to change the color – from the original red letters to blue, (and later, green to celebrate a Superbowl win by the local sports team!)

Philadelphia Sign has continued to raise the bar, for high-rise signs – across the country. Whether for a singular statement like the PECO building, crowned with a programmable digital board that flashes animated messages and graphics above Philadelphia; or, for multiple locations like for Chase Bank’s 21 high-rise installations in locations from coast to coast – there is no limit to our capabilities!

FNB Highrise

First National Bank’s Building in Raleigh, NC illuminating the night sky

Lightcloud: Next Level Lighting Technology from PSCO

Exploring and embracing new technology is in our DNA! That’s why we are excited to offer our clients the latest in lighting control: Lightcloud. Imagine adjusting everything from your sign’s light levels to scheduling to light-harvesting – all from your smart device? PSCO can integrate Lightcloud technology with your illuminated signage.

We’ve taken a technology used for general lighting and engineered it to work with our lighting components, giving you maximum control over your signage – an especially powerful tool for high-rise applications!

Philadelphia Sign outfitted new sets of channel letters atop the First National Bank Tower in Raleigh, North Carolina with Lightcloud technology, allowing for easy control via a mobile application. Using a secure network, the client can make adjustments to light and energy output with just a touch, to realize money-saving benefits. Lightcloud controls have also been integrated into signage at Regions in Nashville and PNC Bank in Wilmington, Delaware.


PNC Bank HIghrise Install PSCO Install Crew

Installation of PNC letters by PSCO installation crew in Wilmington, DE

PSCO Installation: Rising Above the Rest

Installing high-rise signage poses unique challenges. In the early days of sign installation at heights, workers used a simple pulley system, tube, and board scaffolding or a swing stage like the type used by window washers.

Today, material hoists, freight elevators, boom trucks, and cranes are the most often employed. However, for installations in spaces that do not allow for positioning large cranes on the ground in tight city streets, helicopter lifts allow for precision placement. Often, installation requires the use of a combination of methods such as cranes and scaffolding, hoists and swing staging, or helicopter lifts with swing stages or scaffolding.

At 400 feet above street level, the PECO crown lights in Philadelphia were installed using swing staging and repelling to erect the 40’ high by 440’ long RGB LED display! While a helicopter lift in tandem with swing staging was employed to affix the 10-foot high channel letters to the PNC building in Delaware.

PECO Crown Lights Install Crew by PSCO

Two teams of PSCO installers on the North and South of the PECO building

High-rise signage – whether on a new site, a replacement, retrofit, or even removal, requires detailed planning and coordination. Installations may also involve removal of existing and aging signage as in the PNB Building which sat atop the PNB (Philadelphia National Bank) Office Building at One Broad St. in Philadelphia. The 28-story structure, built in 1932, was an example of an Art Deco style skyscraper. The stainless steel PNB initials adorned the tower on all four sides, until 2014. Removal of the letters posed a number of engineering and safety challenges. However, after careful inspection, Philadelphia Sign experts devised a plan for the safe removal of the letters, using a helicopter.

The most important consideration for high-rise installation is safety – for both the workers and the public below. Whether it’s a pylon, wall, or tower signage, Philadelphia Sign installation crews have the expertise for critical jobs that may require staging, crane, or helicopter lifts, minimizing risk and disruption to those below.


PNB Bank Sign Removal PSCO Helicopter

A helicopter was used in the removal of the PNB letters

Take your Brand to the TOP with Philadelphia Sign

Philadelphia Sign is recognized as a leader in high-rise signage. From design to manufacturing to cutting-edge technologies and through installation, our experienced teams can take your brand to the top.

Contact us today and PSCO will help give your brand the high visibility it deserves!