Fact Friday 429 - The Charlotte Crown - Past & Present

Fact Friday 429 - The Charlotte Crown - Past & Present

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Charlotte City Limit Signage, undated. MS0437 Charlotte Corporate Communications records, UNC Charlotte.


In a world where Charlotte’s iconic crown design graces everything from street signs to garbage cans to t-shirts, it’s easy to assume that the Queen City’s always used a crown to represent itself. But in actuality, Charlotte’s relationship with crown logos only dates back to the 1950s. That’s when the city first started using a crown as part of its promotion of the “Queen City” nickname. It wouldn’t be until 1960 that the city began using a crown symbol on city-owned vehicles.

Surprisingly for today’s Charlotteans, not everyone supported the idea back in 1960. Groups like the Mecklenburg Historical Society and the Daughters of the American Revolution protested the decision and demanded the city use a hornet’s nest - the traditional symbol of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. But on April 11, 1960, the crown beat out the hornet’s nest in a 5 to 2 vote in the Charlotte City Council. Over the next twenty years, the city’s crown would go through several iterations and would spread out from city vehicles to the occasional city sign.

That all began to change in 1981, when the city decided it needed a new (and consistant) logo to unify government buildings, properties, and signage. Graphic designer Joe Sonderman was hired to create a more modern-looking logo for the city, which he presented to the Charlotte City Council in September 1981. His original abstract crown design received mixed reactions from the audience, including several city council members (more on that below). Sonderman went back to the drawing board and in January 1982, he presented a redesigned crown logo to the city council, which voted 8 to 1 in favor of the now-iconic logo. The new crown logo began rolling out across the city in 1983, replacing the previous, more traditional-looking crown on city property, like in this photograph from that same year.

Joe Sonderman, founder of the graphics and designs firm Design/Joe Sonderman, won a $10,000 contract with the City to design a sign system for city buildings in the government plaza. Phase one of the project included designing a new logo to go on the city’s signs, uniforms and vehicles. He and his team worked on it for months, developing many variations, before unveiling their chosen design.

The “modern” crown design was met with skepticism from council members when Sonderman presented it at a council meeting in September 1981. “Jester’s hat,” “circus tent” and “general’s stripes” were among the biting  feedback Sonderman got from his initial rendering.

Council members sent Sonderman and his staff back to the drawing board. In the meantime, when The Charlotte News heard council members hadn’t reached an agreement on the symbol, they sponsored a contest for readers to submit their own logo suggestions. More than 100 designs were submitted. 

Sonderman came back with another take in January 1982, this time receiving council’s approval for  the Charlotte crown logo we know and love today. 

But the next day, members of The Queen Charlotte chapter of the Sweet Adelines — a 65-women, barbershop-style singing group — spoke up saying Sonderman’s crown was suspiciously similar to the group’s logo. (Alice Guy, the chapter’s president, was particularly aggrieved  since she had sent city officials a copy of the group’s crown design with suggestions on how to improve it for the city’s use.)

In a meeting of the Sweet Adelines, Sonderman and Charlotte officials, Sonderman said he didn’t see the design, nor did Mary Head, who the firm said designed the crown. The Sweet Adelines were assured there was no ill intent and certainly no copycatting intended.

In 1983, the city began installing signs in Charlotte’s government plaza with the crown logo as a way to help direct visitors. The maroon and green signs were built and installed by Graphic Designs Systems Inc. of Greensboro at a cost of $7,800.

Sonderman retired in 2003 and sold the firm to longtime associates Tim Gilland and Rodger Motiska. (Motiska took over the firm in 2009, renaming it to Rodger Motiska Design.) The Charlotte Observer reported that as Sonderman packed to leave, he said he “doubts many people care or know” that he designed the city’s crown logo. 

You’ve likely seen Sonderman’s work around town without even realizing it. He and his team are responsible for signs and creations for Speedway Motorsports Inc., UNC Charlotte (the logo that was updated and replaced recently) and Discovery Place, to name a few.

Sonderman and his wife moved to Vermont and spent time with their four grown sons. Sonderman passed away suddenly in 2012 at 75 years old while visiting family in England. 

As for the city’s seal, it underwent a facelift in 2017 when advertising agency BooneOakley gave it new life. The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA) hired the agency to incorporate the crown logo into a new brand mark. (BooneOakley ran the “Charlotte’s Got A Lot” campaign for over 10 years before helping CRVA continue to evolve Charlotte’s brand.) 

The result is a variegated blue, block-lettered “CHARLOTTE” accented by the contemporary crown that, thanks to Sonderman, continues to reign supreme on signs, merchandise, ads, memes and many, many tattoos across the Queen City.



UNC Charlotte Special Collections on Instagram, October 20, 2023. 

"The Queen City's Crown Saga," - Charlotte is Creative 

Email chris@704shop.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!

“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” - James Baldwin

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