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The Laguna South Coast Cinemas closed Sunday, August 30, 2015 after its operator, Regency Theatres, was unable to secure a longtime lease to make necessary renovations and upgrades.
Regency, which operates 28 other neighborhood theaters in Southern California and in Yuma, Ariz., said showing movies there was costly and less efficient because of outdated technology in the two-auditorium, 550-seat theater. Films had to be ordered in advance and selection was limited.
Lyndon Golin, president of Calabasas-based Regency, said that distributors no longer provides movies on 35mm film. Everything is digital, he said, and we can’t get a lease with terms to make the investment there. He said he’s been given no reason why his lease won’t be extended.
Closing the Laguna Beach theater not only leaves the town without a place for the public to see movies but also shuts one of the last beach movie theaters along the Southern California coast.
(Based on a story that appeared in the August 30, 2015 Orange County Register.)
The following is an excerpt from an article in the June 27, 2011 issue of the Los Angeles Times:
“When the [Palace] theater opened, the upper "gallery” level was earmarked for non-white theatergoers. Reportedly designated “Negroes Only,” it featured bench seating, had separate restrooms and could be reached only through an outside entrance. Historians have noted that such an arrangement was unusual in a city that, in those days, was more tolerant than other places.
Apparently BLVD does stand for boulevard as in “The Boulevard.” The caps thing is just a marketing ploy. For more info, go here: http://www.newlancasterblvd.com/history.html
My memory is fuzzy so this could be substantially wrong. But what I think I remember — I was a kid at the time — is that there were several theaters within a two block radius of Washington and Vermont — at least three — and the area seemed to be a wholesale film booking area with more company in the film distribution business or affiliated businesses. Of course, what seemed to be “more than one company” could have been various Fox West Coast offices in different buildings. In particular wasn’t there a theater in a huge building on the southeast corner of Washington and Vermont with the entrance on Washington? And wasn’t there a smaller theater on Vermont in the several blocks south of Washington?
The Zaryadia Cinema was located inside the Rossiya Hotel along with — among other things — a 2500-seat concert hall, go-cart track, post office, barber shop, police station (with jail) and a Nissan dealership. The hotel, which was designed by Dmitri Chechulin, was the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1967, a title it held until it was eclipsed by the Excalibur in Las Vegas. The Rossiya closed January 1, 2006 and was demolished later that year. Current plans are for the former hotel site to become a public park.
The October 2013 issue of “Signs of the Times” magazine tells you more than you could ever want to know about the restoration of the Saban Theatre marquee. The lead contractors were Duarte Design and Alpha Architectural Signs.
Another article on its closing:
The Florence Mills is in the midst of being demolished. Here is a picture of the Florence Mills, in decline, but before the wrecking ball.
The restored blade sign was done by Ion Art of Austin Texas. It is 30 x 8 feet. There is an article about the new sign in the June 2012 issue of Signs of the Times.
The December 2012 issue of “Signs of the Times” has a long article on the KiMo. Although it’s mostly about the blade sign, it gives quite a bit of historical background on the theater as well. Unfortunately the article is not available online.
The following article appeared in the November 13, 2012 issue of the Los Angeles Times:
“Historic Theater in Beverly Hills an Empty Shell”
The renowned designer had a mission: to “transform this Wilshire Boulevard cracker box into a sumptuous palace.”
So Joseph J. Musil ordered up red velour seats, gold sconces, a sunburst ceiling and a lobby carpeted in crimson for the 1993 renovation of the Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills. Shimmery black curtains swept back to reveal the giant screen. The place thrived as a venue for small premieres, drawing A-listers on any given night and plaudits from nearby residents.
But it wasn’t enough. Unable to stay afloat, the Fine Arts closed in 2009. An Indian company’s plan to reopen it to screen Bollywood films fell through. The theater became an empty shell.
And so it remains. Some supporters worry that the Fine Arts will never function as a theater again. Back on the market for $4 million, the Fine Arts is at the mercy of an era and economy that make a tiny, one-screen movie theater a risky investment. And while former patrons view the theater with nostalgia, and a few prospective buyers have made inquiries, no investors have stepped up. Historic as the theater is, it is not quite a landmark.
“It’s a big shame, but you know, it’s a change in the entertainment system,” said Brian Dunne of NAI Capital, who has the listing. “People are going to the big multiplexes with food courts and parking. They want it to be more of a social experience. I don’t mean to say this is a dinosaur going nowhere. This place has a lot of charms. We need somebody who wants to keep its tradition alive.”
That tradition dates to 1936, when it was built. Named the Regina Theater, it would go on to generate a wealth of lore. Actor Peter Lorre once stopped in to catch a showing of “M,” the German film that kick-started his career. He fell asleep.
In 1948 it was renamed the Fine Arts Theater and hosted the premiere of “The Red Shoes.” Invited guests included Susan Hayward, Joan Crawford, Ava Gardner and Shirley Temple.
Vittorio Cecchi Gori’s film production company bought the theater in the early 1990s and spearheaded the Musil renovation. Cecchi Gori’s 1997 production “Life Is Beautiful” went on to win several Oscars. Its director and star, Roberto Benigni, arrived one day at the Fine Arts to practice crawling over theater seats, a move he repeated the following evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion when accepting his best actor award.
Known as a low-key place that showed foreign films or indie flicks, the Fine Arts attracted cinephiles and celebrities.
Casey Rocke, who worked as the theater’s manager and film projectionist, recalled the days when Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft arrived on double dates with Carl and Estelle Reiner. An employee once jokingly carded Charlton Heston for the senior discount. Even Hollywood’s younger generation made their way to the ticket booth. Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio were both good-humored during its pre-credit card days, dashing to an ATM across the street.
“We had a solid audience and always booked something no one else had,” Rocke, 34, said. “The theater didn’t make a killing, but it didn’t lose money.”
At one point Landmark Theatres was operating the place; then Cecchi Gori rented it out as a screening room. The current owner, Bhupendra Kumar Modi, who lives in Singapore and has a home in Beverly Hills, is selling the Fine Arts after deciding its operation didn’t fit his company’s business plan.
City officials and staff have spoken in favor of keeping the site a cinema. Michele McGrath, senior planner for Beverly Hills, said city officials have been looking at how to invigorate the neighborhood and have even talked of creating a theater district.
“I think the city cares about theaters in general — they’re part of our cultural heritage,” she said.
Area residents say they have felt the loss. But most see it simply as a sign of the times.
“It seemed like it was part of our neighborhood and that we had a stake in it,” said Brenda Castiel, who has lived within walking distance of the theater for two decades. “I would love for it to remain a theater, but I imagine it’s not economically viable.”
Across from a gas station and an auto repair shop just west of La Cienega Boulevard, the theater is easy to miss on traffic-clogged Wilshire Boulevard. Display cases that once held movie posters are empty and the marquee blank.
Inside, boxes of Red Vines and Junior Mints still linger at the concession stand. A purple couch fringed in gold awaits a visitor. Although the entry shows some wear and tear, the auditorium, with its rows of plush seats and gold and silver decor, still exudes glamour. It is in need of a ruler but remains the sumptuous palace Musil envisioned.
According to The September 2012 issue of Signs of the Times, the Alabama Theater tower sign is being restored by Coast Graphics and Signs of Stafford, Texas.
According to The September 2012 issue of Signs of the Times, “the Joy Theatre sign in New Orleans, originally built by Pelican Signs in 1947, was recently restored by the Big Eay’s Brightway Signs.”
The following appeared in the July 15, 2012 issue of the Los Angeles Times:
“With $1-million restoration, the show goes on at Palace Theatre”
The Palace Theatre is indeed a place fit for royalty. Massive murals lord over the auditorium. Cornucopia moldings hang over the exits. And frescos cover the theater’s domed ceiling, a homage to an era when going to a show was truly a glamorous affair.
“It’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?” David Linderman said as he sat in one of its plush seats. “It’s more of a palace than a theater.”
Linderman drove in from Moorpark with his wife for a public tour Saturday by the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, which surveyed every nook of the theater, which had its first performance on June 26, 1911. (It was known as the Orpheum then, a vaudeville stage, where Joseph Hart’s “The Little Stranger” and “Musikal Girls,” were among the acts in the first show.)
The owners of the Palace Theatre, a name it adopted not long after, completed a $1-million renovation last year to restore the luster lost to time and inattention. The Palace is one of four historic theaters on Broadway in downtown purchased by the late real estate magnate and philanthropist Ezat Delijani, whose family continues to maintain and restore them. The family also owns the Los Angeles, State and Tower theaters.
The Palace had faded to a dismal state, said Ed Kelsey, who led the renovation. Leaks in the roof let water trickle in, causing severe damage throughout the building. It had become so humid inside that the paint was peeling. And coats of paint, layers of flooring and new fixtures added over the years, until the theater was closed in 1999, had lacquered over the original craftsmanship.
To reveal what had once been there, the renovation became something like detective work.
Sometimes it required incredible precision: A team had to examine an old photo with a microscope to spot the pattern on the wallpaper so they could re-create it; for the carpet, one person had to scrub off years of wear and dirt until the design was evident. Untangling a skein of electrical wiring from 1911 was certainly a tedious chore.
At other times, they had to be blunt objects, breaking through walls and floors to find the treasure underneath. “Hit it with a hammer and see what’s inside,” Kelsey said. They discovered the original tiled entryway in the lobby and wood panels in the gentlemen’s lounge. A bannister of concrete had a brass handrail inside.
“What a job! What a job! Look at the detail work,” Carole Koenig, 60, said as she examined the molding. “The kind of quality craftsmanship, they don’t make anymore.”
On the tour, the guides showed how the building had evolved in its various iterations: It originally had box seats, but those disappeared with the introduction of talking movies. It had an organ, and then it didn’t. There had once been an orchestra chamber, but now it was gone. And the instrument room didn’t originally have a functioning toilet right by the door.
Other stops included a ladies' lounge with a window overlooking the entrance so that women could spot their dates, outdoor stairs to the upper-level galleries used at a time when the theater was segregated.
“They’re not dead,” Koenig said of the theaters. “They’re living pieces of architecture for people to continue using in new ways.”
Linderman, 54, loves the old theaters. He even sat through a Spanish-language church service once just to see the State Theatre, also on Broadway.
“It gives you a reason to come down, to see things other than closed buildings, wondering what it was,” Linderman said of the renovation of the Palace Theatre, which once hosted entertainers ranging from Fred Astaire to Houdini.
A year after reopening, many hope for more: The former shine has been largely restored, but it hasn’t come back to life. The Palace is still holding out for a revival.
From “Signs of the Times,” May 2012:
Rialto Theater’s 85-Year-Old Sign Saved: Efforts underway to preserve South Pasadena landmark
The iconic blade sign at South Pasadena, CA’s historic Rialto Theatre, which was opened in 1925 but is currently shuttered, has avoided a date with the wrecking ball. Local police expressed concern that
a February windstorm that swept through the area had damaged the building and sign, and rendered it unsafe. The sidewalk in front of the building was closed as a precaution.
However, structural engineer Michael Krakower, a historic-building specialist, determined the Rialto’s sign posed no imminent structural danger. Landmark Theatres, which holds a lease on the property until 2024, has decided to repair the sign and is currently seeking a contractor.
Escott O. Norton, a spokesman for Friends of the Rialto, said, “The blade sign dates to the building’s original construction, and the lower marquee was replaced in the ’30s and ’40s. There is visible rust around the blade sign, and the paint around the marquee is peeling.”
He said both signs are protected by a National Register of Historic Places designation, which requires more approvals to tear it down, but doesn’t guarantee the sign’s preservation. Dominick Jebbia acquired the Rialto in the 1930s, and placed it in a family trust in 1950, which still endures.
This following article appeared in the August 28, 2011 isue of the Los Angeles Times:
“Deer Lodge’s Rialto is Truly a Community Theater” by Kenneth Turan
If you live in a big city, movie theaters are places you complain about, despair of, maybe even avoid. In this small town 80 miles southeast of Missoula, however, the single-screen Rialto Theatre is so essential to residents' sense of place — often in unexpected ways — that it’s almost impossible to imagine life without it.
So when the Rialto caught fire on Nov. 4, 2006, the entire town of 3,400 had its heart in its throat. Despite 3 million gallons of water poured on the blaze by firefighters, the theater burned for three days, with 50-foot flames visible for miles.
Two weeks later, a community meeting was held, and the sentiment to rebuild, remembers Steve Owens, president of the Rialto Community Theatre Board of Directors, was “just overwhelming. One or two people said ‘don’t bother,’ but the other 200 said, ‘You just need to do it.’” A highlight of the meeting was an appearance by a group of seventh-grade girls who held an impromptu bake sale in front of the Safeway the week after the blaze, and “donated $300 before anyone got their act together. That had an impact.”
From those modest beginnings came a juggernaut of passion and commitment to rebuild. “I can’t explain it,” says board member Ron Mjelde, “but when this gets into your blood, you live it.”
Deer Lodge is a not a booming place (its per capita income is $14,883, according to the 2000 census), but when the cost estimate came in at $3.5 million due to strict building codes for theaters, the town did not flinch. “It was never that we wouldn’t get it done,” says Owens, a pharmacy technician, “it was that it would take the rest of our lives.”
But now, five years later, the impossible is close to happening. The town is only $300,000 short of its fundraising goal, and the theater is nearly rebuilt. So how did a city without great wealth or a corporate presence make something like the Rialto revitalization happen, and, equally important, why did they put in the effort?
A town treasure
Deer Lodge is a classic Western small town. Birthplace of former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, it’s best known in Montana as the home of the state prison (the high school’s sports teams are nicknamed the Wardens). Its friendly downtown invites you to eat at the Broken Arrow Steak House and Casino, shop at New to You (“Fine Used Clothing for All Ages”), appreciate the “Navy Seals 1, Bin Laden 0” sign outside an insurance office and admire the Rialto.
The theater opened on May 2, 1921 and is a Beaux-Arts reminder of the days when Deer Lodge was a booming trading center. Its pink and white neon marquee now says “Send Donations to P.O. Box 874, Deer Lodge, 59722” instead of listing films, but its cream-glazed brick and terra cotta facade still gleams in the sun the way it did when original owner Jens Hansen promised the Silver State Post he would show “the very best pictures regardless of the high royalties he has to pay.”
In recent years, movies were shown Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. “It was a place people could drop their kids off and know they’d be safe,” Owens says. “If the parents were late after the show was over, someone would wait with the kids until they showed up.” Admission was $4 for adults and $3 for children, plus “people love our popcorn,” he says. “Cars would double-park three deep to get some.”
Theater board member Gayle Mizner, whose newborn great-grandson is the seventh generation of her family to live in town, points to the theater’s balcony and says, “right up in the corner is where I had my first kiss. My heart is in Deer Lodge.”
As the largest auditorium in Powell Country, the Rialto has served as a theatrical space as well. One week in May 1929, it showed Buster Keaton’s “Spite Marriage” and welcomed the Los Angeles Philharmonic on its Northwest tour. In recent years, it has hosted plays, concerts, lectures, dance recitals, graduations, even funerals.
Deer Lodge came close to losing the Rialto in 1995, when the original owner’s family wanted to sell it and a casino operation was rumored to be interested. The asking price was $90,000, but it was offered to the community for $65,000; a nonprofit organization was formed and the funds raised in a few weeks. Headlined the Post, “Congratulations Deer Lodge. The Rialto Is Yours.”
For 10 years, some 300 volunteers ran the Rialto, and the town put $350,000 into upgrading it. (Surround sound speakers were in boxes ready to install when the fire broke out.) The sense of community ownership that had built up over that decade, plus the knowledge of how hard people had worked to maintain and improve the facility, added to the impetus to rebuild. That, and something more — a sense that having a theater is important for the community’s youth.
“People here should have the same opportunities for their children as people in other communities,” Owens says. “If we can make it happen, make a place for them to sing on a stage, do their plays, we should.”
As it turns out, the Rialto’s stage, complete with six original 1921 painted backdrops, was not touched by the blaze, shielded by an asbestos curtain originally installed to protect audiences from onstage fires. Also saved were the projection booth and its 35mm projectors, as well as the facade.
The fire off blew the roof, and the Rialto’s shell was left open to the sky for months while the board consulted with architects.
Re-creating the theater exactly would have been too expensive, but the new space had to be as close as possible to the way people remembered it to gain fundraising traction in town. The original estimate was $4.5 million, but volunteer work and zealous penny-pinching brought the cost down. For instance, an old satellite dish headed for the dump was repurposed as a decorative ceiling dome, saving $5,000.
Key was a contractor (Martel Construction of Bozeman got the job) who would do things the town’s way. “We wanted to use volunteers as much as possible,” Owens says. “And we never wanted to have any debt, which meant nothing started until the money was in hand. If we needed to take a break to raise more funds, if it took a little longer, that was OK with them.”
Volunteers hung drywall, , and the high school art class worked on the decorative ceiling. A Job Corps team is scheduled to take down the old fire escape and put up a new one. And, Owens says, “there is a nice lady who likes to sweep. She cleans up the whole theater after the carpenters are finished for the day.”
This spirit of cooperation was vividly visible when it came to acquiring 400 replacement seats. Owens heard from a theater owner in Miles City, at the other side of the state, that he had some seats from a Florida theater that he didn’t need. They were donated to the Rialto.
The Miles City high school choir loaded the seats onto a truck, and a contractor in Anaconda paid the shipping costs. Deer Lodge’s high school football team unloaded the seats, putting them in donated storage space. A company in Butte cleaned the fabric gratis, and an inmate fire crew from the state prison scrubbed the metal clean of gum.
Owens estimates that there have been close to 2,000 individual donors, from Deer Lodge, 60 other Montana communities and 40 other states. No donation is too small: gum ball machines in Peoples Bank and the MRC gas station say “Candy for Rialto — 25¢” Elementary students collected spare change and took it to be counted at Pioneer Federal Savings & Loan, which matched the $1,928.
The most elaborate fundraiser was a five-course dinner catered by Becky Blakely, a retired pastry chef who’d worked at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center. Though local benefits were usually in the $30 range, the board decided to charge $100. “People said we were crazy, but it sold out in two days,” Owens reports. “We netted $50,000 in one night, unreal money for Deer Lodge,” an amount the Pioneer S&L agreed to match.
But Owens' gifts as a grant writer have been the major source of funding for the Rialto. Owens knew that raising money would be a challenge because of the economic climate and the fact that many foundations “only give locally and don’t even know Montana exists.”
Owens wrote to more than 500 foundations. “In a good economy, if you get a 5% response, you’re doing well,” he says. His response rate is 10%, including a pair of $300,000 grants. “You have to have a compelling story,” he says, modestly. “I’m persistent and patient, and I keep emotion out of my letters. I don’t fluff it up.”
Now that the Rialto has won Montana’s biennial Governor’s Award for Preservation and the reopening is starting to seem possible, talk in town is focusing on what the opening-night movie should be. Some are suggesting the film that was scheduled for the night the fire broke out, the Kevin Costner-starring “The Guardian.” And others, Owens says, not quite believing it himself, are pushing for either “Backdraft” or “The Towering Inferno.” He shakes his head, thinking about it all.
“We had a disaster, and we’re trying to make something out of it,” he says. “Albert Einstein once said there are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is a miracle.” A pause. “Some of us lean toward miracles.”
Miller Signs fabricated the new marquee per the June 2011 issue of “Signs of the Times.” No date is given.
The following article appeared in the February 13, 2011 issue of the Los Angeles Times.
“Where Westerns Were in the Saddle"
By Steve Harvey
With its daily menu of westerns, the Hitching Post Theater in 1940s Hollywood gave posses of kids some early lessons about law and order â€" and not just on the screen.
“Check Your Guns at the Box Office,” a sign commanded the youngsters, who usually showed up in costume.
Management was serious about cap-gun control.
“They could check to see if your holsters were empty,” said Hollywood historian and Hitching Post habitue Bruce Torrence.
Still, some young desperadoes managed to smuggle their shooting irons into the seating area, as became evident.
“During chase scenes or gunfights on the screen, they would fire off the cap pistols to the tune of yells, whoops and cheers,” said Westell Rhodes, another patron.
As a transplanted New Yorker, Rhodes said, “I had never seen anything like this.”
The Hitching Post, he recalled, “showed a western double feature, cartoons and a serial chapter every day. The exterior had a western theme. The ticket-seller was dressed in cowboy garb.”
Rhodes, in his early teens, quickly shed his New York ways.
“I felt right at home walking down Beachwood Drive dressed in authentic western style with the boots, striped gambler riding pants and cowboy hat,” he said. “Nobody gave me a second glance as I walked about two miles to the Hitching Post.”
It was before Hollywood became obsessed with making one-size-fits-all movies, and genre theaters were plentiful.
Some offered only foreign language films, some silent movies, some newsreels, others sophisticated, art-house attractions. (Soft porn emporiums wouldn’t arrive until the 1960s, followed by, well â€¦ you know.)
And then there was the Hitching Post with its sagebrush sagas. Smaller studios in the neighborhood of Gower Street and Santa Monica Boulevard (nicknamed Gower Gulch) were churning out low-budget, B movies. The stars were such luminaries as Roy Rogers (“King of the Cowboys”), Bob Steele (“Two Fisted Hero of the West”) and Gene Autry (“America’s Favorite Singing Cowboy”). One stallion, Rex the Wonder Horse, even got top billing in his own movies.
The Hitching Post opened in 1941 at 6262 Hollywood Blvd., now a plaza outside the Hollywood/Vine Metro Red Line station.
Times columnist Lee Shippey found it ironic at the time that the theater was located near the corner of Hollywood and Vine, “the very heart of what many persons think the center of a sink of immorality.”
But, he noted, the heroes were keeping to the straight and narrow.
“They never smoke, drink, swear, gamble or make love to any but the right gal,” Shippey wrote. (“Make love” meant “chastely kiss” in the 1940s.)
The movie house was such a hit that its owner, ABC Theaters, opened other Hitching Posts in Beverly Hills (later the Beverly Canon theater), Pasadena, Long Beach and Santa Monica. One fan insists that the Santa Monica theater had an actual hitching post outside.
Cowgirls were not so much in evidence at the theaters.
Writer Lisa Mitchell had a girlfriend who said of her infatuation with Hopalong Cassidy: “I didn’t know whether to be his girlfriend or be him.”
For Mitchell, at the age of 9, the choice was easy.
“I had a Hopalong Cassidy outfit with black pants and black shirt,” she said. “I’d wear a cowboy belt with fake jewel studs, a silver buckle and a steer head on the buckle, and a straw cowboy hat. I wore my braids up under my hat so people would think I was a boy. I loved being the girl in the all-boys club.”
Occasionally, when a movie such as “Indian Agent,” with Tim Holt, would seem to suggest an alternative costume, some moviegoers would show up as Native Americans, with feathers in their hair.
The mostly male-oriented audience did not thrill to the warbling of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
“I remember the noise and popcorn bag-throwing during the singing or love scene between the cowboy star and the banker’s daughter,” Morley Helfand wrote on the Cinema Treasures website.
The good guys had no trouble fighting off the black hats. What they couldn’t handle was the invasion of television sets in the early 1950s.
Suddenly, the little buckaroos had only to go into their living rooms to flip a switch for entertainment instead of trudging, or catching a ride, to a movie house.
One by one, the L.A.-area Hitching Posts shut down. The Hollywood prototype became the Paris Theater in November 1949.
“It’s amazing that it could stay alive that long, and in such a good locale,” Mitchell said.
When the Paris Theater opened, The Times wrote, “You’d never know the old place. Instead of the horsey atmosphere, everything is now plush and chichi, as lobby and auditorium smile with flowers, ferns and sophisticated murals.”
Flowers, ferns, murals? Chichi?
You could almost hear Rex the Wonder Horse snorting, “Neigh!”
The following story appeared in the February 2011 issue of “Signs of the Times,” a trade magazine for the sign industry.
The Gleaming Tower
Superior Neon reinvigorates an Oklahoma City landmark.
By Jim Gleason
In the summer of 1937, Oklahoma City was buzzing with talk of the opening of the Tower Theater on 23rd and Walker St. downtown. W. Scott Dunne, a Dallas architect, devised the building, and Super Sleuth, which starred Jack Oakie and Anne Sothern, was its first feature. Although it wasnâ€™t the cityâ€™s first movie house, it was celebrated for its unique architecture, lighting and then-novel air conditioning, which was trumped in the Daily Oklahoman as â€œscientific refrigerationâ€.
For more than two decades, the Tower flourished. However, as population shifted to the suburbs, it lost many customers. During the early 1960s, the Cooper Foundation, which owned the Tower, shut it down. Two ownership groups subsequently operated the theater â€" including a successful renovation after a January 1967 fire — but the Towerâ€™s popularity gradually declined, and its stint as a first-run movie house ended during the mid-1980s.
Eventually, local citizens began working to preserve the theatre. Its iconic sign — a diagonal blade sign with neon-bordered, 3-D, closed-face, neon-lit, porcelain cans that spell out â€œTowerâ€ and descend into the marquee â€" had fallen into disrepair. One side of the marquee was severely crumpled, and served as a compelling reminder of the once-proud propertyâ€™s decline.
In 2009, owner Marty Dillon and advisor Greg Banta spearheaded renovations on the property. They planned to repurpose the property as a mixed-use facility with office, retail and restaurant space, but they wanted the Tower sign and its legacy to serve as a testament to the propertyâ€™s history.
Setting the stage
Dillon initially contacted me about restoring its signage. Because 23rd St. had been widened, the marqueeâ€™s front had become exposed to tall trucks and had been damaged. Also, parking spots had recently been created in front of the marquee.
At the time, heâ€™d just purchased the building. Iâ€™d twice before bid on making repairs to the sign. With each visit, the site looked worse. The front was completely destroyed, and the side pieces were barely recognizable. The sign had also become home to many winged residents. Ultimately, Marty accepted my bid, which included restoration of the exterior, and repair and restoration of neon and other lighting.
Because the theater is located on Route 66, Marty submitted an application to the Route 66 Corridor Preservations Program for a restoration grant, a cost-share proposal that has previously helped restore other signs.
The National Parks Service, which administers the Route 66 program, accepted the application, contingent on the restoration of sign boxes, neon tubing, incandescent lighting, marquee and brick supports to their historic color and appearance.
Before we could begin work, Marty received approval from the city for our shop to occupy a parking space in front of the Tower throughout the projectâ€™s duration. City workers subsequently extended the sidewalk and curb in front of the theater to prevent trucks from wrecking our work.
To preserve the signâ€™s grandfathered status, we could only remove part of the sign. Its core had to remain intact. Halfway through the project, city officials contacted me about permits. After a meeting, we decided the Tower sign wouldnâ€™t require one. We had to demonstrate the rebuilt segment represented a small portion compared to the signâ€™s overall size.
First, we developed a photographic scope of the work, which highlighted the damaged area and distinguished the work Superior would do from what Jacobs Contracting, which rebuilt the Towerâ€™s exterior wall, would do. We used CorelDraw 10 to devise the rendering, as well as numerous sign-restoration components. Superior and Jacobs working on the project for several months over a carefully managed schedule to ensure both crews werenâ€™t onsite at the same time.
The blade signâ€™s porcelain components required rust-stain removal, as well as priming and touch-ups. The upper section remained in relatively good shape, but the lower section had been destroyed by the truckâ€™s impact.
To restore the rusted areas, Superior employees Robert Kazee and Basile Koliopus used wire-brush wheels to remove rusted areas. After having removed the spots, they primed and coated the areas with Matthews acrylic-polyurethane paint. After weâ€™d prepped all the sections, Eric Morrison matched the cleaned porcelain and applied the polyurethane finish to the new piece.
When the truck hit the marquee, it knocked the upper internal frame out of plumb. The entire bottom had to be removed. We replaced numerous sections of sheetmetal filler with new aluminum, which we finished with acrylic-polyurethane paint. Other work crews, which had been subcontracted, helped with demolition. Once weâ€™d dismantled the lower section, we cleaned up the site so we could focus on straightening the main frame in the upper section. We pulled the top back into plumb and fastened it back to the main marquee frame with temporary steel angle.
Over seven decades, the internal wiring had decomposed badly. It had been patched and repaired over the years, but needed a major overhaul. We stripped all wiring and transformers from the sign and installed 28 new transformers. As we removed the neon from the sign, we patterned and tested the tubing. It if was operational, we set it aside for re-installation. We searched unsuccessfully for the signâ€™s original, neon animator, and, because we couldnâ€™t prove that the sign had been animated, it was forbidden per city code.
Because yellow glass is no longer available, we made a close match with veep-green tubing. As we installed the glass within the sign, we discovered much of the old glass weâ€™d tried to save was badly stained and looked too dark alongside new tubing. We decided to replace 90% of the tubing, and ultimately installed 1,100 linear ft. of new neon.
Early in the project, we discussed using LEDs. However, our main objection was to restore a longstanding, neon icon to its former glory. Therefore, we decided that LED-lit tubing designed to replicate exposed neon wouldnâ€™t suffice.
Something old, something new
To retrofit the new marquee, we had to remove several bricks below. Vintage theater marquees were built into the building, with integral steel structures fastened within the buildingâ€™s construction. Some time during the theaterâ€™s history, the original, cast-stone faÃ§ade had been overlaid with brick veneer. This addition covered part of the marquee, and it had to be removed to expose exterior-sign sections. We fabricated two new sections and removed both sides of the marquee.
The signâ€™s primary frame was structurally sound enough to preserve. We dislodged the primary sign components from the original support structure and realigned them with the marqueeâ€™s center. Using original sign photos, Superior rebuilt the signâ€™s base where it connects to the marquee.
Once weâ€™d completed the lower-section demo, we brought all pieces back to the shop. Tony Summers and James Young transferred all measurements into CorelDraw. Using the measurements, Young and Tommy Tinoco recreated the entire bottom section. They exported the files to EnRoute 4 3-D sign software and cut all pieces on the shopâ€™s MultiCam 3000 CNC router. We cut all new sections from 0.080-in.-thick aluminum, MIG-welded them to form the 3-D sections, and fabricated the â€œTowerâ€ letters from 3/16-in.-thick, flat, white acrylic.
The marqueeâ€™s lighting required a redo as well. The fluorescent fixtures above and below the marquee were badly corroded and required removal. We power-washed the marqueeâ€™s underside, which had become discolored. Superior installed new, fluorescent lighting. The original faces were plate glass, and the letters porcelain as well. We retrofitted the new sign with 8-in.-tall, Wagner Zip-Change letters. For a final, finishing touch, we added stainless strips and polished-stainless screws.
We havenâ€™t yet replaced the marqueeâ€™s original underside. The original marquee ceiling actually stretched into the building; the buildingâ€™s current exterior doors were 15 ft. inside the building. The bottom of the marquee extended into that area and connected to what was the original ticket booth. Our next phase of the project includes rebuilding the neon around the ticket booth and connecting it to the marquee.
We assembled all sign sections using an 85-ft. Skyhook HD bucket truck and a 55-ft.-reach Terex service bucket truck. Once weâ€™d installed the pieces, Jacobs returned and built a new roof for the marquee, finished the building exterior and removed the brick that overlaid the original cast stone.
To bid on restoring such vintage signs is tricky. Many require a complete rebuild, and the cost can be prohibitive. Weâ€™ve restored other signs, such as one of the original neon signs for Sonic drive-ins, but this was a much larger scale. Fortunately, the Route 66 grant made it feasible.
We didnâ€™t have tight deadlines, so we were able to complete the project carefully over four months. Dillon arranged a public sign lighting, which approximately 100 people attended. It was very gratifying to see the public applaud our hard work.
The August 2010 issue of “Signs of the Times” features a picture of the current Brook Theater with the following caption: “When the Brook opened as a theater in 1949, it featured "Father Was a Fullback,” which starred Fred MacMurray. The theater features one of Tulsa’s few marquee signs that includes channel-block, double-tube letters; channel-script, sign-tube letters; and neon bandings. The letterbox contains glass panels. The Wally Werr Sign Co. manufacturered the originla sign. The theater building now houses a restaurant.
The following article appeared in the August 2010 issue of Signs of the Times.
“Fifth Avenue Style: CREO rejuvenates a landmark Seattle theatre with luminous signage”
In February 2008, Cathy Johnstone, the 5th Avenue Theatreâ€™s (Seattle) director of facility operations, con-tacted us regarding a new exterior sign for the property. CREO (known as SignTech at that time) had fabricated its existing exterior signage back in the mid 1990s, and we participated in brainstorming discussions regarding a new, vertical marquee that we hoped to build when funding allowed.
She explained that a donor had expressed interest in funding a new marquee reminiscent of the vertical one that existed when the theater opened in 1926. Between February and July 2008, the theaterâ€™s management team invited CREO to preliminary discussions regarding various concepts for the new design. They wanted general guidelines regarding signage possibilities attainable with their available budget.
In July 2008, funding was secured, with the overwhelming majority derived from the donorâ€™s contribution. That budget required proportional distribution between design and fabrication/installation. For the $300,000 allocated to the project, design, electrical work, structural testing and electric programming required $100,000; fabrication comprised the rest.
Design and fabrication decisions
The Seattle office of NBBJ, an architecture/environmental-graphics firm, designed its ideal sign based on client input and CREOâ€™s general guidelines. Then, CREO analyzed that hypothetical signâ€™s cost relative to the available budget. Some sign elements were non-negotiable: size, function and materials. For other aspects, CREO specified options and corresponding costs for budget optimization. After three design revisions, the team selected a design that achieved both the desired aesthetics while respecting budgetary limits.
As NBBJâ€™s design intent unfolded, CREO provided material samples â€" painted aluminum, acrylic, screenprinted patterns, etc. â€" and general fabrication information to help focus design details. Once the designâ€™s scale, color and function crystallized, CREO fabricated a full-size cabinet section (approximately 3 x 4 ft.) that included dimensional, layered materials with a few LED bulb options with differing colors, brightnesses and shapes.
The mockup also showed different animation options for the bulbsâ€™ illumination, chasing and scintillating functions. To ensure optimal readability, we viewed the prototype in daylight and darkness.
Time to build
As fabrication began, we addressed programming the signâ€™s lighting. The sign required 12 different lighting regions, and the theater wanted maximum control and flexibility for illumination. The light show needed to vary for different theater events, which meant CREO had to deliver a fairly sophisticated, electrical-control assembly.
Consequently, CREO installed a subpanel that branches out all circuits and provides an astronomical timer control. The subpanel breaks the power into 12, 20A circuits. Eleven dictate the lighting scheme, and one manages the rotating â€œ5â€ atop the sign.
The electronic clock controls each circuit individually â€" turning them on and off appropriately â€" per client programming. The job required five or six lighting variations. Yet, the sign only draws approximately 60A when fully engaged.
Motion and light
The 10-ft.-tall rotating â€œ5â€ â€" essentially a custom, 3-D aluminum cabinet â€" looms as the signâ€™s crowning glory. A Dynapac Model L-350 rotator, which turns the sign at 4 rpm, powers the cabinet. The motor is indexed to stop in the same position whenever the power is turned off. Designing the structural connection and support for the Dynapac rotator presented an initial challenge, but once weâ€™d brought the engine in house, the plan unfolded fairly easily.
Expectedly, adhering to budget proved a consistent challenge. The LED S14-style, screw-in LED that provides chaser lighting provided the most significant budgetary hurdle. These were chosen because they mimic the incandescent bulbs often used for signage back in the â€™40s and â€™50s, but in a much more energy-efficient manner. The 1W bulbs will consume approximately 90% less energy than traditional, 11W incandescents.
The sign required nearly 2,000 of these bulbs, so they consumed a significant budget portion. This type of LED lamp, however, is relatively new. Finding an affordable solution with adequate testing and a good performance track record proved extremely difficult. After much research and analysis, the consultant team chose a foreign product. Unfortunately, we immediately encountered a larger-than-expected failure rate. We worked with the distributor, Action Lighting (Bozeman, MT), and received another batch of lamps just in time for completion. Despite the hassle, we met our clientâ€™s needs.
Sign installation was fairly involved as well. We first designed and engineered the signâ€™s attachment to the building. Finding accurate structural information about this nearly 100-year-old building proved challenging. Standards for building construction, materials and techniques differed a bit in the mid 1920s.
Ultimately, the main horizontal structural members, which run between vertical columns behind the buildingâ€™s stone faÃ§ade, proved substantial. A 5-ft.-tall, 2-ft.-deep, concrete structural skeleton supports each floor around the buildingâ€™s full perimeter. A seismic structural review, which occurred here (and at many older buildings) after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, strongly influenced our attachment design.
We core-drilled test holes through the buildingâ€™s faÃ§ade to verify the location of the structural beams and test the concreteâ€™s condition. Luckily, everything proved compatible for our planned epoxy/stud anchoring system. After having determined the structureâ€™s location in relation to the stone faÃ§ade, we prepared three baseplates. We set each with 36, 1-in.-diameter, threaded rods, which we anchored with epoxy into the concrete building structure with Simpson Set XP epoxy. We welded the signâ€™s three, steel-tube supports to the plates.
We built and installed the sign in three pieces. We constructed the signâ€™s body in two segments, and the rotating numeral comprised the third. Because the theater resides on one of downtown Seattleâ€™s busiest streets, all installation phases occurred at night and were coordinated around a busy performance schedule.
Also, the installation happened near the holidays, so lane closures during the busy shopping season limited our working window. Fortunately, we completed the bulk of the install before Thanksgiving, but we performed some final minor assembly and touchups after the street-use restrictions had begun. For those tasks, we hired a roped-access crew to rappel from the roof and complete this work that otherwise wouldâ€™ve waited until after Christmas.
The 60-ft.-tall signâ€™s 0.125-in. aluminum shell, built entirely around a 2-in., aluminum-square-tube frame, was finished with Matthews acrylic-polyurethane paint. CREOâ€™s Gerber Sabre 408 router handled most of the flat-cut work. We finished the jobâ€™s more intricate cutting on a waterjet table.
The multiple lit regions include perimeter cove lighting that illuminates an ornately patterned face; halo-lit letters that spell â€œAvenue;â€ and separate detail cabinets at the top and bottom with push-through, acrylic copy. We illuminated all components with more than 2,000 Allanson Storm Tight LED modules in white and red. The LEDs are powered by 11 Sloan LED and 27 Advance Corp. 60W transformers.
We also populated the scintillating exposed lamps in the letters, and the two rows of perimeter chase lights, with more than 1,900, low-voltage, S-14, exposed-LED lamps. Design Specialties built the scintillation and chase units.
The rotating â€œ5â€ features two rows of Sloan FlexiBRITE red, LED rope lighting that simulates neon border tubes, as well as LED lamps embed-ded inside the numeralâ€™s outline.
Our work yielded a luminous, vertical marquee that attracts even greater attention to this historic theater.
Quite often visiting a porno theater isn’t about viewing the picture on the screen. It’s about networking (so to speak) with members of the audience.
The following article appeared in the June 2010 issue of “Signs of the Times” a trade magazine for sign builders.
By Ian Macartney
Jim Winter-Troutwine, a Grand Rapids, MI architect who specializes in restoring historical buildings, contacted me regarding a unique project for Allegan, a small town about 45 miles southwest of Grand Rapids. The city owned its local downtown movie theater and, using grant funding from the State of Michigan, wanted to restore the theaterâ€™s marquee and sign to their original condition. Allegan officials wanted the old theatre to serve as a central cog in downtown development while preserving the townâ€™s well-known sense of history.
During my 25-year, neon-sign career, this was certainly the first time a customer possessed the funds and motivation to completely re-do a sign â€" let alone consider it â€œhistoric.â€ Back in the â€™80s, it seemed people couldnâ€™t tear down vintage, porcelain-enamel signs quickly enough. As a collector and sign aficionado, I was thrilled at the opportunity to complete a â€œframe-offâ€ restoration.
The 10 x 20-ft. marquee and 10 x 12-ft. sign appeared, at first glance, to be in fair condition. Considering they were built in 1936, they looked remarkably vital. It had what I considered classic, art-deco lines, 11W, yellow, incandescent chaser bulbs, backlit marquee panels and tasteful, clear, green and blue argon and neon accents.
However, the red porcelain enamel had badly faded, and, besides numerous rust stains, the bottoms of the cabinets had been repaired with 0.040-in.-thick, white aluminum some time ago. The original, galvanized sheetmetal was long gone. Because the cabinets were secured to a heavy, I-beam subframe and bolted together, the loss of the bottom pieces didnâ€™t seem to impact the overall structural integrity.
Amazingly, all but three of the 52 units of neon worked, and most appeared original. The project also included refurbishing the original, white, porcelain-enamel ceiling. Roof-drainage problems had exacted extensive damage to these panels as well.
The projectâ€™s mission required restoration of the entire structure to its original condition. Anyone familiar with restoring cars knows how much work this means. Every brass nut, bolt, screw, panel and socket has to be original as possible, saving as much of the structure as possible in the process.
No quick fix
With all the necessary paperwork completed, the entire structure came down during a blinding, April snowstorm. We dismantled the sign as a single piece, but the 10 ceiling panels were individually removed, and the marquee comprised three separate cabinets. Once removed, the componentsâ€™ rust eliminated most structural integrity.
We carefully catalogued and boxed all neon parts, noted installation methods and stored the fastening hardware. Itâ€™s one thing to tear down a sign; removing it with the intent of creating an exact replacement presents a much greater challenge.
The contract called for October completion. When I agreed to the project, that seemed so far away. Within two weeks, weâ€™d deconstructed the sign and sent the porcelain panels to Cherokee Porcelain (Knoxville, TN). This shop undertook the application of new porcelain coatings for the ceiling-panel faces, but needed several months because of a heavy backlog.
Working with the patterns of the original faces, we repaired the missing cabinet portions. We repaired its structure with patches of galvanized sheetmetal. We made one approved deviation from the original: a new, brushed-stainless-steel bottom, with drain holes! After having taken apart countless Holiday Inn porcelain signs during the â€™80s, I understood the wisdom of using drainholes to allow water to pass easily through the structure.
Dealing with adversity
During mid-summer, Cherokee contacted us with bad news. The minerals used to produce the original porcelain coating were deemed incompatible with the modern minerals to be used for the overlayâ€™s production. The process of discovering this wrecked several of the original panels.
The only solution: Cherokee had to refabricate every panel to precisely match the originals. They plotted out and digitized every single hole, radius and dimension for the laser equipment to cut and bend the metal. The deadline rapidly approached. The final complication was getting the red to match the original, which was tricky. The original yellow and green porcelain matched perfectly, but we lost several weeks during the fabrication process.
In September, the panels finally arrived in good shape. With porcelain, one dent or pinch can ruin the panel. Rust encroaches where bare steel is exposed. No holes or modifications can be included after the coating is applied and baked on. Either it fits or it doesnâ€™t; by nature, porcelain is very unforgiving. For-tunately, the panels fit the original cabinets very well.
However, the neon-housing holes all were just enough askew to render the carefully boxed neon useless. All 52 pieces, which comprise 475 linear ft., had to be repatterned and remade. We used Voltarc 15mm and 13mm clear, 12mm green and 12mm blue neon. We had only four weeks left before the state inspection. We carefully fitted and wired the neon with porcelain lightbulb sockets and France transformers throughout.
I found a supplier who carried #9855 front-mount sockets (with two â€œearsâ€) and brass screws to match the original, as well as Philips 11W, yellow bulbs. We used #300 open-back, neon housings, which Iâ€™ve found help prevent shorts in the rain and are especially helpful with UL 2161-compliant transformers. This time-consuming work quickly ate up four weeks. Thereâ€™s no such thing as a project without problems, is there?
A bittersweet end
Installation went smoothly â€" the four main units matched up perfectly with the supporting I-beam. The blade sign aligned over the marquee exactly as the original had. With all wires connected, thereâ€™s nothing like the feeling of throwing the switch and seeing an illuminated sign come to life.
On the dedication day one week later, the city organized a formal lighting event to culminate the $42,000 project. It drew a sizable crowd, and the collective exclamation was very, very rewarding. It was like lighting up a Christmas tree for kids! It was doubly rewarding to have a porcelain-neon sign valued by the community and recognized by the State of Michigan as historic.
Sadly, this project became the last large neon sign built by NeonAmericana. After 26 years of specializing in neon signs, Iâ€™ve seen the market for neon almost completely disappear. My new company, Lumichron, specializes in building illuminated clocks. It was somehow fitting to conclude my old shop with the reconstruction of a classic, art-deco piece of real Americana.
Equipment and Materials
Components: Eighteen- and 24-gauge, galvanized sheetmetal, from building-supply stores; medium-base, porcelain sockets, from Leviton Products (Huntington Beach, CA), (877) 389-0000 or www.levitonproducts.com; porcelain-coated steel panels, from Cherokee Porcelain (Knoxville, TN), (865) 637-7833 or www.cherokeeporcelain.com
Lighting: Clear, green and blue neon tubing, from Voltarc (Waterbury, CT), (800) 962-6366 or www.voltarc.com; neon electrodes, from EGL (Berkeley Heights, NJ), (908) 508-1111 or www.egl-neon.com; outdoor transformers, from France (Fairview, TN), (800) 753-2753 or www.franceformer.com; tube supports, from FMS (Minneapolis), (952) 888-7976 or www.fmsneon.com; #300 electrode housings and #9855 front-mount sockets, from neon-supply houses; GTO wire, from Electrobits (Montreal, QC, Canada), (877) 567-2487 or www.electrobits.com; Philips 11W, yellow, incandescent bulbs, from lighting-supply stores; and four-channel lighting chaser, from Time-O-Matic (Meriden, CT), (203) 634-4431 or www.shinersigns.com/timeomatic/
Tools: Plasma-cutting torch and welding equipment, from industrial-equipment and building-supply stores; installation crane, from Postema Signs and Graphics (Grand Rapids, MI), (616) 455-0260 or www.postemasign.com
From: Signs of the Times, February 2010, a sign-making trade magazine
“An Iconâ€™s Second Act"
The Sign Factory gives a landmark Emerald City sign a facelift.
By Ken Naasz
In 1928, the worlds first TV station opened in New York; Mickey Mouse made his big- screen debut in Steamboat Willie; and Seattleâ€™s most opulent theatre palace opened to the wide-eyed public with a landmark sign that featured 1,944 flashing bulbs and 5-ft.-tall, neon, open-pan channel letters. As part of the city skyline for more than 80 years, it has been deemed â€œthe most significant sign in Seattleâ€ by Seattleâ€™s Landmarks Preservation Board. The original theatre and sign were designed by the famed Chicago architectural firm Rapp and Rapp. Originally built and installed in 1928, the sign was changed in 1930 to reflect its new name, the Paramount Theatre.
In December 2008, David Allen, director of operations for Seattle Theatre Group (owners of the sign), decided the old sign needed replacement after having endured many years of wet Northwest weather. Rust and decay had deteriorated its sheetmetal beyond repair. Birds and rodents ate away the old electrical wiring, which created a fire hazard. Pieces of the sign had begun falling off the marquee, which threatened the safety of pedestrians on the sidewalk below.
The Sign Factory (TSF), Kirkland, WA, contracted to remove the old sign and replace it with an exact replica. TSFâ€™s field manager, Tom Bonifant, maintained the old Paramount sign for more than 15 years. Bonifant had spent more than a decade replacing its transformers, wiring, sockets and sheetmetal, so Allen entrusted him to manage the signâ€™s replacement.
We began by surveying the existing sign for salvageable, original elements. We hired West Coast Structural Engineering Inc. (Mukilteo, WA) to analyze the steel and provide a structural observation and assessment report. Their analysis found the 12 x 5-in., steel I-beams and connecting, 15-in. C-channels in excellent shape, with only some surface rust in places. Not bad for projecting out the side of a building amidst often rainy environs for more than 80 years. However, the welded, 2-in., angle iron that connected the sign sections to the structure required replacement.
Next, Allen, Jim Risher, Jim Minar (TSFâ€™s president and permit technician, respectively) and I met with Seattleâ€™s Landmarks Preservation Board and provided the engineering data and preliminary designs. The submittal process entailed attending several to Architectural Review Committee meetings, drawing revisions and providing additional information to the committee.
The board approved the sign, with the stipulation that it match the originalâ€™s design and size. TSF built a full-scale, section prototype of the sign so board members could see and touch the actual paint colors, materials, neon tubes and LED bulbs. After having acquired a certificate of approval from the Board, we obtained sign and electrical permits from the City of Seattle.
Hatching the plan
With approvals in hand, TSF began the manufacturing process. First, we made â€œdirty handprintâ€ patterns onsite by placing large sheets of paper over the signâ€™s face and rubbing the paper to create a relief image. This allowed TSF to recreate the intricate scroll patterns and distinctive design elements with exacting detail.
In addition to making patterns, we took measurements from all sections to ensure accuracy. Next, we began the painstaking process of transposing the pattern and measurement information into our CAD/CAM computer system. On our design-station computer, which operates Windows XP Pro, a 2.67MHz Intel Core Duo processor with 2 GB of RAM, Corel X3, and Gerberâ€™s Omega Composer version 3.6, we digitized the size and shape.
With the digital image saved, we downloaded the vector EPS files directly to our AXYZ 5010 dual-head, 6 x 10-ft., flatbed CNC router. We used Artcam Express 2009 and AXYZ Toolpath for Windows software to convert the files from EPS to NC format. The Sign Factoryâ€™s production manager, Shawn Spencer, managed the entire manufacturing process.
The signfaces measured 65 ft. tall overall and varied in width from 5 ft. 4 in. to 8 ft. 8 in., while each face was built in three separate sections for transport and installation ease. We routed the signfaces from 0.125-in. aluminum with the bulb socket holes and letter centers cut from the face. We cut grooves at a 0.031-in. depth to allow for insetting and welding of 3-in. x 0.063-in., chasing bulb channels.
The Seattle Theatre Group wanted the new sign be as “green” as possible. The 6 x 10-ft., aluminum sheets contain 17% post-consumer and 27% post-industrial, recycled content. Ryerson Aluminum provided the recycled sheetstock.
On the reverse side of the signfaces, we used a Miller Millermatic 275 220V, wire-feed welder to attach a 5-in.-wide, aluminum C-channel frame. TSF built 2 x 2 x 3/16-in., steel angle, custom rolling dollies to better access each section of the sign throughout the construction process. We designed the dollies with a rotisserie feature that allowed production crews to easily reach every sign section. This allowed TSF to save time and money and reduce the risk of damage to the signs during the construction process.
We welded aluminum channels from 0.063-in. material to the face sections using the grooves previously routed into the face. The open pan channel letters, which read â€œParamount,â€ were wrapped with 0.080-in. aluminum. The letters were constructed with an 8-in. return to match the original letters.
Next, we primed the sign faces were with Akzoâ€™s Grip-Gard Washprimer, a two-part, self-etching primer. Then, 1,944 UL-listed 660W/250V Suprolux Bakelite housing bulb sockets were installed into each hole routed from the face. We inserted router-cut, rigid foam insulation, which we coated with waterbased primer, into each socket to prevent overspray contaminating the sockets.
We painted the bulb channels and open-pan channel letters gold to match the existing sign. TSF also paid careful attention to the exact color to replicate the original signâ€™s patina. We sprayed on satin-finish, Matthews acrylic polyurethane paint. We then masked the gold areas and painted the signface blue to match the old paint color.
Following the painting process, we wired the bulb sockets with four colors of 1000V, 14-gauge wire. We then wired Rocox solid-state, four-way flashers to the sockets to provide the chasing action, which matched the original bulbs. To match the original bulb chasing action, weâ€™d recorded the speed and action of the original bulbs. We replaced the original, 11W incandescent bulbs with HiteQ 0.75W LED lamps with frosted lenses that closely matched the originals.
Throughout the face construction, painting and wiring processes, we routed the 0.090-in.-thick aluminum back sections on our AXYZ CNC router. Access panels were strategically placed throughout the back of the sign to provide for service of the electrical components while avoiding the internal and external structure. Hinged covers were included on the panels to keep out the weather, birds and other critters. We welded the 0.080-in., aluminum sign returns to the back and face sections, and then primed and painted the sign back and returns to match the original color.
Every piece in place
Final assembly required installation of double-tube, 15mm, 30mA, clear, red-neon tubing within the open-pan channel letters. Single-tube, 15mm, 30mA, clear, pumped-blue neon completes the center tube within each letter. Using one transformer per letter, we installed VENTEX Gen III self-adjusting, UL 2161-listed, 120V/1.8 amp, ground-fault transformers to power the neon components. All told, the neon spans 420 linear ft.
Over two days â€" October 6 and 7 of last year â€" we removed the original sign and installation of the new sign sections occurred. We cut the old sign into five sections per side for removal. TSF estimated the sheetmetalâ€™s weight at roughly 12,000 lbs., and the new signâ€™s aluminum weighed 6,000 lbs. The Sign Factory hired Apex Steel Inc. (Redmond, WA) to remove the old sign and complete all onsite welding. City inspectors performed a very detailed and comprehensive inspection of all the field welds.
Ness Cranes of Seattle provided a 40-ton crane with a 130-ft. lift. We also used a 125-ft. Genie lift throughout the removal and installation process. TSFâ€™s 24-ft. flatbed truck, two 24-ft., flatbed trailers and 80-ft. Dyna-Lift crane truck transported the sign sections.
Thanks to Tom Bonifant and his crews, the installation progressed like clockwork and ahead of schedule. On October 21, a lighting ceremony was held, and the public got their first look at the bright, new sign. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and Seattle Theatre Group was thrilled with their beautiful new sign.
In addition to its aesthetic appeal, the sign will consume 90% less energy and save approximately 493,268kwh of electricity per year versus the old sign. Thatâ€™s enough energy to power roughly 55 Seattle homes. The Paramount Theatreâ€™s lighting upgrade and sign project also qualified the Seattle Theatre Group for approximately $56,000 in energy-efficiency rebates from Seattle City Light.
The Sign Factory is proud to have been a part of such an historically significant project. The Paramount Theatreâ€™s sign will continue to shine brightly and illuminate the Seattle skyline for another 80 years (or more).
From “Ask Chris,” a column in Los Angeles magazine, June 2009:
“The Strand Theatre opened as a neighborhood movie house in 1929 and soon became a center of Eastside kid culture. Cowboy star Buck Jones had a Ranger Club of almost 4,000 ‘courteous and obedient’ youngsters headquartered there. One of the Rangers' activities was to invite celebrities like Boris Karloff and Gene Autry to write their names (and Ranger safety slogans) in wet cement in front of the theater. When the Strand closed in 1952, owner Paul Swickland removed the cement blocks and used them to pave his San Marino patio. About a mile west of the former theater I found slabs autographed by Tom Mix and Tonto (their fragile state and my Ranger Club oath forbid me to reveal the location). As for the building, it’s now owned by the L.A. Archdiocese.”