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Preserving Our Sign Heritage

7th of February 2015 |   BSC Signs Team

Signs play an important part in the heritage of our cities. In this article we describe some heritage signs from Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, and Denver — and the efforts that have been made to preserve them.

Can you think of a sign in your area that you'd miss if it were taken down? Sometimes a sign is such an important landmark in a neighborhood or business district that it becomes part of a city's urban heritage. And when a historic sign is lost due to redevelopment or because a business has closed, the public often feels that it is losing a part of its history.


This KOMO TV news story from October 2013 shows Seattle residents cheering as their beloved Rainier Beer sign was returned to its rightful place. They came out on a rainy night to witness a lighting ceremony for a sign that was welcomed back after a long absence. It shows that people really do care about their heritage — and signs can be part of that.


The 12 foot high replica neon sign was returned to the top of the former Rainier Brewery, which was located beside the Interstate 5 freeway just south of downtown Seattle. It had been removed 13 years earlier when the brewery closed, after serving brightly for nearly 50 years. The new sign was fabricated by Western Neon, and the original is now at Seattle's Museum of History and Industry.


North of Seattle, in Vancouver, British Columbia, a similar story played out a few years ago. The huge "W" sign on the top of the downtown Woodward's department store building was removed when the company went out of business after 101 years. But the original 1955 sign was restored with a replica in 2010 when the century old building site was redeveloped — another win for heritage.



Also in the Pacific Northwest, Portland had its own successful campaign to preserve a heritage sign. The White Stag sign in downtown Portland was created and installed by Ramsay Signs in 1940, and became an official historic landmark in 1977. It started out as a sign for White Satin Sugar, then for many years it promoted White Stag Sportwear.


In 2010, after years of changes in ownership of the building, and disputes over what should be displayed, the neon sign was acquired by the city. Its lettering was changed from Made in Oregon, to Portland Oregon.

Do you see the red light on its nose? That's an annual tradition for the Christmas season that goes back many years. Ramsay Signs of Portland won an International Sign Association award in 2011 for its work on the redesign of this Portland landmark. You can read the whole story of this famous sign on Wikipedia.

White Stag sign


Here in Colorado we have our own signs that are part of the state's heritage. The City of Golden is located just a short drive from Denver, at the base of the Front Range mountains. It's famous for being the home of the enormous Coors brewery. But for those with an eye for signage, it's also known for its Welcome to Golden sign, which was installed in 1949.

Would downtown Golden be the same without this landmark sign that arches over Washington Avenue? According to an article in Sign and Digital Graphics magazine, when the sign was temporarily taken down for repairs in October of 2009, the city was "inundated with calls and e-mails protesting its removal".

Welcome to Golden

And just like every city, Denver has its own historic signs that have been identified as worth preserving.

The Union Station signage is very prominent in downtown Denver, especially at night. According to Denver's RTD transportation website, the Union Station Travel By Train signs were installed in 1958, around the time Stapleton Airport began jet airliner service. Their installation was motivated by the decline in train travel due to competition from airlines and Interstate highways. In 2014 the Union Station redevelopment project was completed, and the original heritage signs are a signature part of the project.

Denver Union Station

Recently the focus of sign preservation in Denver has been in the historic Colfax Avenue business district. Colfax is one of Denver's main streets, and has many mid-20th century signs that are worth preserving.

A group called "Save the Signs on Colfax", founded by Corky Scholl, is trying to rescue some of these unique and historic neon signs. Their Facebook page has many photos that show the beauty of the classic neon signs, and also features updates on preservation efforts. Here's how they describe Colfax Avenue:

During the 1950's, Colfax Avenue was better known to many westward travelers as Route 40. As these travelers ventured toward their mountain destinations, they were greeted by the bright neon signs of the city. These neon signs were made with great craftsmanship and artistry and were designed to grab the attention of the multitudes of motorists traveling the strip.

A year ago, Save the Signs was successful in having twelve of the Colfax neon signs included in the 2014 Endangered Places list, created by Colorado Preservation Inc. This Denver Post article gives the full story. The signs are mostly from restaurants, motels, and lounges, and were installed from the 1940s into the 1960s. Here's a terrific news story by CBS 4 in Denver about the neon signs of Colfax Avenue and the businesses and people behind them.

The neon sign specialist interviewed in the CBS story is Seth Totten of Acme Neon in Denver. Seth is known in the local sign industry as a neon bender, someone who is respected for having a combination of artistic vision and technical skill. Seth has contributed his talents on many neon projects at BSC Signs over the years, including our signs for Pasquini's restaurants. One of those neon signs is shown in the photo below.

Pasquini's Restaurant sign

You can read more about Seth's work and his efforts to preserve Denver's neon sign history in this article by Chris Meehan in Confluence online magazine. 

Here at BSC Signs we've been in the sign business since 1999, and we're proud of the many neon signs we've created for businesses in Metro Denver. Some of our large installations have now been up for quite a few years.

We would be very pleased if one day, decades from now, one of our signs came to be considered a part of the area's history and heritage! Meanwhile we encourage the continuing efforts to identify and preserve Colorado's heritage signs.

Photo credits:

Woodward's sign by Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Union Station photo By Darkshark0159 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Golden, Colorado sign by Billy Hathorn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Portland, Oregon - White Stag sign (day) 1985 by Steve Morgan. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Portland Oregon - White Stag sign (night) by Steve Morgan. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


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