BEAR DOWN Metal Letters

Case Study: Large Outdoor University Campus Metal Letters

Table of Contents

"BEAR DOWN" Large 3D Metal Letters

The University of Arizona, established in 1885 before Arizona was even a state, is a bustling university community of approximately 47,000 students. Imagine for a moment that you are one of those students walking down campus, going about your classes for the day when the clock strikes noon. Suddenly, you hear the faint melody of the “Arizona Fight Song” echoing across campus.

It’s coming from the Administration building, and it has played every day for the last 20 years.

Bear Down - University of Arizona Metal Letters
Each letter measures approximately 50” H X 12” D. The entire sign measures 36' long x 5' high. Made from 1/8" steel and painted in 3 colors with automotive paint.


The story of the Bear Down Fight Song is an inspiring one, and it all began in 1926. The then study body president, John Byrd “Button” Salmon (who was also a catcher for the baseball team and quarterback for the football team; a true Wildcat through and through), was fatally injured in a car accident. His final words for his team was, “tell them… tell them to Bear Down”. 

In honor of their leader and teammate, the students raised money to have Salmon’s inspirational message painted on the roof of the gymnasium (now called the “Bear Down” gymnasium in his honor). The story was shared with many visitors of the university, including the university’s future band director Jack Lee, who was visiting as an applicant for the position in 1952. On the way home, his plane flew over the famous gym where Jack saw those moving words on the roof. Inspired, he penned the words to the now-famous school cheer, immortalizing Jack Salmon’s legacy. More than half a century later, the motto has become a staple of the culture of the University of Arizona. 

John Byrd “Button” Salmon
John Byrd “Button” Salmon. Photo credit: University of Arizona


In honor of this memory, and to embody the fighting Arizona spirit, Art Director of Brand Managing Jessica Estrella commissioned WhiteClouds to create a Metal Letter display featuring the famous motto (“B-E-A-R-D-O-W-N”) to be installed on campus. The letters are located in front of the Main Library of the University of Arizona, right next to the “Bear Down” gymnasium — where it all began.

The project was completed thanks to the efforts of Jessica Estrella, Janice Simcoe (the Brand Equity Director), as well as the aid of the University Committee, the President of the University, the engineering firm, facilities management, and the local fire department. The aim of this display was to represent the fiery school spirit of the Wildcats, and the impressive size of the famous motto certainly contributes to its intended formidable presence — standing tall at 5 feet with a whopping length of 38 feet.

Bear Down - University of Arizona Metal Letters Front View
The letters were installed in front of the Main Library, right next to the "Bear Down" Gymnasium.
Bear Down - University of Arizona Metal Letters
A few students getting a selfie shot in right after installation.

Creation Process

To make the display as sturdy as UoA’s legacy, the letters were formed out of mild carbon steel about 1/8 of an inch thick. Steel was chosen because it is a cost-effective and extremely strong material, even allowing for people to climb all over the letters.  The 8 letters were cut out using hydraulic shears and plasma cutters, and welded together using phased mig welders. Each letter averaged about 280 lbs. A base was also created for the letters to stand on, and was 10 inches in height and 14 inches in width.  

When the letters were ground and polished to near-perfection, they were ready to be painted with the bright colors of the Wildcats. First, a primer (True TP200GL) was used to fill any spots in the surface to prevent rust and ensure a smooth finish. Next came the paint. Automotive paint was used to ensure protection against chemicals, UV, and weather damage, which is essential for outdoor use. The school colors (Cardinal Red and Navy Blue) were used along with a white border, ensuring that the letters would stand out from any distance.


Installation was a quick process thanks to the help of Stephen Mikitish and his installation crew, taking approximately 90 minutes total to unload, install, and cleanup. The letters and base were installed on top of a 5 inch concrete sidewalk, which served as part of the roof structure of an underground learning center. The university’s facilities management did a structural analysis through an engineering company (Turner Structural Engineering Co.) to guarantee that the roof was strong enough to withstand the weight of the display. Since the letters were standing on such thin concrete above the learning center, the company recommended the use of small diameter epoxy anchors to attach to the base of the sidewalk to avoid splitting or cracking.

Below is a quick video of the installation.

The large letters now stand as proud and tall as the legacy of one of Arizona’s top universities, drawing the attention of anyone who passes by. Students, past and future, will flock to memorialize their experience at the university with a signature photo, echoing the cry to “BEAR DOWN” as they move forward to the future. 

Finished Gallery of Bear Down Large Metal Letters

An actual conversation

Just as we finished installation and was admiring the scene from a distance, we overheard the following conversation… 

Student 1: “These are the coolest letters I have ever seen. I hope these are permanent.”
Student 2: “I bet they are just going to be there a few days and they will take them away.”
Student 1: “I sure hope not, Bear Down means a lot to me”.

We take pride in knowing that these letters are very permanent and will be a part of Bear Down history. 

Customer Testimonial

"From planning to pre-production, production and delivery, WhiteClouds is hands down one of the best vendors I've worked with. The owner made sure we met our deadline even during a time where the world had shipping delays. He drove miles and delivered our sign himself! We love brainstorming new ideas and thinking about the next project with WhiteClouds."
University of Arizona
Jessica V Estrella
Marketing & Brand Management | The University of Arizona

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