Twenty years ago, the 1900 theater was in sad shape. Its roof had collapsed, and the neon sign was rusting and all its glass tubing was long gone.
Luckily, a new roof was installed, protecting the building. Then, several years ago, the Strong City Preservation Alliance recreated the neon sign! It was however, already crated when we first saw the finished sign! Argh!
However, we could not install the sign as we intended to mount it to a pole springing from the sidewalk. The city, which had plans to replace the sidewalk in front of the theater, requested that we wait until such work was done.
A year passed and no new sidewalk. We began discussions about having the pole, instead, spring from the top of the staircase. This though, after much investigation, proved untenable as the stair would require an engineering retrofit to handle the load.
Then came a suggestion at a board meeting: “Why not mount the sign directly to the building?”
We all looked around, and smiled. “Yes!”
And the motion was approved.
Then we had to wait until Coffelt Sign Company, who made the sign, could install it.
And we waited. And waited. Various appointments were made but cancelled due to strong winds. Or icy conditions. Or, a job that was intended to be finished by noon took all day, so our afternoon appointment was cancelled.
This past Wednesday Coffelt contacted us: “We can be there at 9AM tomorrow!”
Schedules were quickly shuffled. Excitement filled the air.
The morning arrived. No wind. No ice. Perfect temperature.
The crated sign was brought into the sunlight.
And…GASP!!!!!!!!…for the first time, the Alliance board members could see it! GASP!!!!!!!! That is board member Scott Wiltse (R), and Rick Hamman (L), who owns Coffelt with his wife, Staci. They have been a delight to work with.
The sign was raised high into the air. Wanna see the results? Scroll way down…
ZOUNDS! Note also the sign, lower center. The theater was recently awarded a $90,000 Kansas Heritage Trust Fund grant to restore the original windows to the east facade (intact behind the plywood), install new entry doors, restore the arched stained-glass window (in storage), and repair the concrete steps. The grant will also fully restore the original lobby, which survived, just, the collapse of the roof. Mike Schmidt was instrumental in making sure the lobby was not hauled away with all the other debris. The front of the staircase was recently painted, as were the pipe railings.
You can see the neon tubing. Note the vertical yellow neon tube! The neon tubes for UPTOWN will glow red when lighted, as will their white backdrop. The colors for the sign were informed by VERY faded colors on the original sign. And what, you may be thinking, happened to the original neon sign?
The current Alliance board would have preferred that the faded sign (see, gain, the first picture) be kept AS IS, but previous board members stripped the sign down to mostly bare metal. While we initially thought that the sign could be restored, its condition dashed our hopes. Instead, we used it as a template. Then, we cleaned it up and repainted it to allow its display as an artifact inside the building. When the interior is restored, the sign will be installed in the ground-level ballroom. You will note that we did not use the word THEATER on the new sign as this seemed to clutter the visual, and because the restored building will not be used solely as a theater. NOTE: While the word UPTOWN originally had neon tubing, the word THEATER never did. So, at night, it could not be read.
The Alliance board is debating when to light the sign. Some think it should be lighted, STAT! Others want to wait for Rodeo weekend, or other upcoming events. So, we will debate this vital question on Tuesday! Stay tuned!