Monday, July 18, 2011

Our Save Old Signs Campaign Is Alive and Well

We welcomed two 1950s era signs to the collection recently, thanks to the efforts of two Michigan sign companies.

The story began more than a year ago, when we got an email from Dave Lindenbach, project manager for RWL Sign Company of Kalamazoo, MI. He explained how they were getting ready to take down the Oasis Liquor sign in nearby Paw Paw, and asked if we would be interested in adding it to the museum's collection. He said he had already approached the owner, Larry Larson, about donating the sign.

Thanks to sign sleuth, Debra Jane Seltzer, we tracked down images of the sign on Flickr and I was able to view the sign illuminated in its better days. As you can see, tt was indeed representative of the type of locally manufactured custom neon signs we and our visitors really treasure, and it was still seen as a local icon. In fact, this original sign was actually replaced by a replica sign, but more about that in a subsequent post...

Photo courtesy of PJ Chmiel of Paw Paw Michigan, home of this great sign.

Lindenbach talked with RWL owner, Robert Leet, who agreed to store the sign for a few months until we could retreive it. Of course, that was back in the summer of 2010. Several planned trips to Michigan just never happened, but RWL continued to store the sign.

Then we got a call from another Michigan sign company—Higgins Signs of East Lansing—who told us about a 1950s era neon sign they were removing, asking us if we were interested. Thanks to Jamie Higgins and his wife, Susan, we learned that the sign was manufactured in 1952 for Moose Lodge #288, which closed some years later. The sign was donated to a second area lodge, #2291. The second lodge could no longer afford to maintain the sign and was looking for a good home for it. That’s when Higgins stepped in and told the fraternal group about the American Sign Museum, and we gladly agreed to the donation.

Ironically, Higgins had actually refurbished the sign 25 years earlier while working for another sign company. He even had slides documenting the work and a handwritten, but thorough, list of the various repaired neon units, including color and tube diameter.

When we got the call from Higgins in January, we planned for a spring trip to Michigan and this past April, actually hit the road—first to East Lansing, and then west 100 miles to Kalamazoo.

What we weren’t prepared for upon arrival at Higgins Signs was the presence of Lansing State Journal reporter, Laura Misjak, and photographer, Rodney Sanford. Also present was Russ Nisse of Moose Lodge #2291, who filled us in on the sign’s history. The next morning, there front and center, was a story on the donation of the Moose Lodge sign. Nice press for the museum.

Loading the Moose Lodge sign
So sincere thanks to Jamie and Susan Higgins, for all their work in making the acquisition happen, and to both Jamie and Pat Burkhardt, who got the sign strapped down that morning. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the dozen cookies Susan baked especially for me.

Thanks also to Dave Lindenbach of RWL who made the Oasis Liquor sign donation possible, and especially to RWL’s Frank Combs, who taught me a few new tricks in rigging the sign that afternoon.

Headed home to the American Sign Museum.



  1. It is fun to look at old classic signs from decades past. I think they can give businesses great design ideas for new signs today. Looking to the past for inspiration makes design educational and fun.

    Norah Chandler |