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The Queen City’s Crown Sagaby Amanda Lea on October 14, 2021
Charlotte’s crown logo reigns across the Queen City. It has been used as a Charlotte emblem for more than 65 years, stemming from the City’s royal namesake, Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III.
From hats and hoodies to garbage cans and street signs, Charlotte’s crown logo reigns across the Queen City. The crown has been used as a Charlotte emblem for more than 65 years, stemming from the City’s royal namesake, Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III.
But when a modern iteration of the Queen City’s crown was unveiled to city council members in 1981, the royal emblem was met with little love, a pinch of controversy and a wealth of opinions.
A Royal Letdown
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.
A Low-key Legacy
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 this summer) 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.
The Crown Lives On
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.