In his office at Those Were the Days in Tempe, Victor Linoff keeps a box of old paint chips. Viewed from their sides, the chips show layer after layer of color — purple, pink, blue, purple, teal, white and lots of yellow.
"There’s only been a couple opportunities to get these," said Linoff, the store’s owner.
Since 2000, Linoff has been photographing the "A" on Hayden Butte. Along with paint chips found near the site, he has about 100 photographs of the "A" — each one showing the 60-foot-high letter painted in a different color (or colors).
With the help of Impression Makers Printing and Graphics in Tempe, Linoff has compiled 32 of those photographs to create a "Colors of the ‘A’ " poster. It is sold at several downtown Tempe stores, including Those Were the Days, for $9.95.
Since the current "A" was built by the ASU student government in 1955, painting it has become a tradition for many students, including members of the ASU Student Alumni Association, which is charged with maintaining its conventional Sun Devil gold color. The association also guards the "A" during its most vulnerable time — when the University of Arizona Wildcats are in town for a football game and fans threaten to haul cans of red and blue paint up the butte’s path.
Attempts to paint the "A" have been fewer over the past year, Linoff said. But the "A" has always been a sort of public canvas, where individuals and groups can convey their messages — through color — to onlookers below.
The poster shows the "A" painted as an American flag in honor of those who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and in rainbow colors for gay pride. Sororities and fraternities trek up the butte to add their Greek colors and letters, and people often pay tribute to friends and lovers by painting names and questions like "Will you marry me?"" onto the "A."
After an ASU freshman drowned in 1998 during spring break at Lake Havasu, students from his dorm painted the "A" in red, white and green to pay tribute to his Italian heritage. They continued to do so every spring break for several years after.
Linoff, who looks at the "A" a day, once saw its color change three times in fewer than 24 hours.
According to Jeff Lane of the Tempe Police Department, it’s not illegal to paint the "A" because there is no criminal intent. Still, people usually do the job at night — most likely to add to the adrenaline rush.
"ASU is lucky to have that kind of landmark so close (to campus)," Linoff said. "It really is the focus of downtown."
The "Colors of the ‘A’ " poster is available for $9.95 at Those Were the Days, 516 S. Mill Ave., Tempe. (480) 967-4729.
• There are two other, smaller A’s on Hayden Butte. When Sun Devil Stadium was heightened in the early 1970s, the letters were no longer in view, though people can still see them from the stadium’s press box.
• The first letter on Hayden Butte was "N." Made out of rocks, it was created in 1918 by students of Tempe Normal School. In 1926, a "T" replaced the "N" and remained until 1938, when a makeshift "A" was added for the newly named Arizona State Teachers College. The current concrete version was constructed in 1955 in an effort to make the "A" more permanent.
• The ASU Student Alumni Association, which maintains the "A," returns it to its traditional gold color an average of 65 times each year. The association says it takes about 10 gallons of paint and two coats to paint it completely. Sources: Arizona State University and Victor Linoff