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Somewhere an old sign is being removed. It could land in a junkyard, an antique store, or even a museum. The fate of vintage signs is fickle at best. Is it art or eyesore? Cultural artifact or tacky advertising? Is it worth saving at all? Both the Society for Commercial Archeology and the American Planning Association are working toward preserving the signs and symbols of American commerce. Too many features of the commercial landscape — diners, neon signs, Mail Pouch barns — are fast disappearing without being analyzed, recorded or preserved. These organizations have drafted model sign preservation ordinances aimed at planning officials and landmark associations to aid in preservation decisions at the local level.
The humble brick wall sign also draws attention. People are looking anew at that faded Coca-Cola sign on Main Street, the one with ghostly lettering that reads “Relieves Fatigue.” In recent years, small towns and cities alike have jumped on wall sign restoration. Experienced signpainters, called “wall dogs,” are uncommon today, but St. Louis has at least one. Lonnie Tettaton, has painted hundreds of wall signs in the Metro area, many of his own design. Recently, he restored a century-old Alpenbrau Beer sign and a Ceresota Flour sign, both in Dogtown. After that, he created a vintage-looking mural on the side of the Lemp Mansion, highly visible to drivers on I-55 South. In each case, Lonnie’s work became a civic event — people gathered, watching the work in progress. Even after Lonnie has packed away his brushes and paints, the wall signs spark conversation. They are a source of pride for the neighborhood.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
A journalist and photographer since 1982, Wm. Stage has plumbed the life stories of thousands of people. He has taught photojournalism at Saint Louis University's School for Professional Studies [1990-96] and he is an alumnus of the Photojournalism Workshop, offered by University of Missouri - Columbia's School of Journalism and held in a different Missouri town every year since 1946. He is the author of six non-fiction books including Have A Weird Day: Reflections and Ruminations on the St. Louis Experience. He lives with his dog, Jack, in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis.