La Verne Magazine
"La Verne's Small-Town Businesses"
Making Masterpiece Signs Out of Metal
by Erin Grycel
photography by Michael P. Bailey
While painters use their paintbrushes to make works of art, all Ken Hiebsch
Sr. needs is a carborundum cut off saw to create his masterpieces. Hiebsch's
company, Creative Metal Arts, has sparked the interest of such notable companies
as Nickelodeon and MGM Studios.
A gigantic, fabricated aluminum foot towers above the exterior entrance
of the Nickelodeon headquarters in Burbank. In downtown Los Angeles, Arco
Towers has more than 1,000 different room number, name piece and restroom
signs. The upcoming aquarium in Long Beach consists of multiple evacuation
maps mounted on the interior walls.
For personal necessity, direction or pleasure, each of these signs stand
out to the public's eye. The man behind the iron curtain is Kenneth Hiebsch,
owner of Creative Metal Arts, who customizes architectural signs throughout
"A lot of people will just look at the [sign] and never understand
the work that has gone into it," says Hiebsch. "For most people,
it will just be a letter on the wall."
Since September of 1988, Hiebsch has maintained a specialized type of
business consisting of aluminum, brass and stainless steel signs, along
with various other metal materials. "I am in the upper end of the industry,"
In contrast to "mom and pop stores," his main accounts include
office complexes, medical establishments and the television industry. Geriann
Noriega, free lance artist subcontracted from Spectra Painting, says, "Ken
has a higher caliber of skill than just a regular sign maker. He creates
sculptures out of metal and plastic."
Obtaining a four year apprenticeship at Cox Neon in Montebello and working
for Ampersand, a sign making company in Pasadena, for 13 years, Hiebsch
learned the "whole facet of the trade."
"I worked with the metal and went to school two nights a week,"
says Hiebsch. "I went to Pasadena City College, Garfield Adult School,
welding school and various others," he adds.
Instead of relying on store front advertising, Creative Metal Arts has
flourished from "word of mouth." "Once you know people, they
keep coming back to you if you do good quality work," says Hiebsch.
"For instance, I have six designers who use me, which gives me an inside
track into accounts."
The man behind many of the accounts Creative Metal Arts obtains is general
contractor Richard Rosenburg, who works closely with Hiebsch. "It is
a good two-way street for us," says Hiebsch, commenting on the job
accounts that are exchanged through the two men. "He is the sales person,
and I have gained a lot of work from him."
One of the trademarks of the company is the "out of the ordinary
signs" that are produced. "This sign company is different because
it does odd stuff. It is completely different and challenging," says
Ken Hiebsch, Jr., computer operator and shop employee of Creative Metal
Currently on the Long Beach aquarium account, Hiebsch has been hired
to make signs with three dimensional letters engraved in Plexiglas. "The
edges are polished and it is highly technical," he says. "We just
made stainless steel name pieces with sheeting in the back for the president
of Arco Towers. These things cannot be sold to everyone."
The versatile accounts and plans from the designers can be challenging
at times. "We are expanding, and we are making light fixtures for a
company in Israel. This will be the first time that we have tried something
like this," Hiebsch Jr. says.
Although Hiebsch only has two employees in his shop, he says, "We
fabricate quite a bit, but we buy a lot of the [materials] out." He
adds, "We have the etching done in Burbank, the printing and painting
in Cerritos, and computer graphing in another place."
Even though Hiebsch "keeps a low profile in La Verne," he
has made signs for the city of La Verne including Warehouse Pizza, Old Town
Square and an optometry doctor. "Most of the time, people off the street
will go somewhere else for a sign. I do not do enough work in La Verne for
people to know about me." However, Hiebsch states he would not want
to have his shop in any other location than La Verne. "My suppliers
know where I am, and I am content with my business in this city."
Concentrating on short deadlines, the employees "have to be ready
to work around the clock." The six week deadline for the Nickelodeon
account enabled the men to get to know each other's work habits better.
Noriega says, "It was a pleasure working with Ken because he is a perfectionist.
Even though it became stressful at times, we had a good completed product."
From interior to exterior, Hiebsch took part in the renovation of a building
in Burbank for Nickelodeon headquarters, a children's television station.
"It was the best experience I have ever had doing sign work,"
says Hiebsch. "The people were really young and energetic, and I was
able to make some incredible signs."
"Challenging and unusual" are the two words that Hiebsch Jr.
uses to describes the signs. "Constructing the huge foot for Nickelodeon
makes this business different. It was really big, artsy looking and not
ordinary," he adds.
With 12 to 16 feet lettering, various color schemes and lighting, Noriega
says that the job was "unusual but a big success. With Ken, I knew
I was working with the best, and only good could come out of it."
One of the highlights of working in the sign industry "is meeting
a lot of interesting people," says Hiebsch. "I have met the vice
president of MTV, the designers for the Olympic Games and the staff from
In the movie "The Crow," Hiebsch was hired to duplicate an
old sign in downtown L.A. "It was some really weird stuff that I had
to make," Hiebsch says.
Behind the scenes with various movie crews, Hiebsch has made valuable
contacts with individuals. "I worked closely with Paramount Pictures
on Beverly Hills Cop III." The benefit of these contracts are "working
with a lot of the same people over and over." As a result of his various
contacts, Hiebsch has numerous projects that are in progress during a certain
time period. "We are working for a company in Pasadena, the Metrolink,
the aquarium and MGM," he says. "We take on accounts as they come."
"[Sometimes] I feel like the craziest guy in the world," he
Although Hiebsch is modest about the success of his business, Noriega
speaks frankly about the importance of Creative Metal Arts. "It is
a very small shop but his reputation is huge," she says. "People
from around the world are finding out about him."
Tucked away in his workshop, Hiebsch and his employees have endless
projects. They work endless hours. In essence, they have transposed metal
into masterpieces of art.
From signs in movies to signs on buildings and, yes, even signs in restrooms,
Creative Metal Arts does it all. Currently, (left to right) Ken Hiebsch
Sr., John Bishop, Ken Hiebsch Jr., and Rafik Haroutounian are busy making
metal sign art for the Long Beach Aquarium.
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