Creating A Color Vintage Skyline


Backdrop image of San Diego skyline circa 1955


My most recently completed commercial project is an N scale, proto freelanced, SP project set in San Diego in the 1950’s.   It was important to my customer and friend Jim that we create at least a reasonable representation of the San Diego skyline IN COLOR from that era.  Creating the almost four foot long image inset became a fascinating and extremely challenging project in and of itself.  Finding images wasn’t a problem.  Finding them in COLOR was a major problem. Between the two of us we spent hours searching the web to no avail.  Jim made personal visits to the San Diego historical society.  Nothing.


My first approach was to purchase “colorization” software to add color to the image shown above from the cover of the book “San Diego Past and Present” by George Jezek.   How do I put this diplomatically….said software was as useless as tits on a bull.  Just worthless.  Long on hype, short on power, these programs do nothing that a select/bucket fill in Adobe can’t do.  Back to square one.  I let it sit for awhile and then a thought occurred to me.  I wonder how many of the iconic structures in the photo above still stand.  I called Jim and he started digging around.  Bingo!  To our total amazement almost all of them still exist in perfectly restored form, they are just obscured by taller, more modern buildings in front of them.  Jim did some more digging and came up with the names of the key buildings.

On to my tool of choice, Google Streetview.  Between street view and commercial photos I captured shots of each key structure and squared them up the best I could in photo shop.  More research on the web and I found a good shot of a low rise San Diego background hill.  What followed was almost eighty hours of cut and paste as I painstakingly edited each structure.  Using the black and white photo as a guide, I first pasted the hill in the back and then pasted the structures in place working back to front.

Dave Burgess of Backdrop Junction produced the custom printouts on peel and stick vinyl.  I can’t speak highly enough of Dave’s professionalism and patience in working with me.


Once the  skyline was finished, it was inset into place on one of Dave’s Southern California images and printed out.  The roll of vinyl was then placed on an MDF backing following the instructions Dave provides in a video tutorial.