Lileks: One bulb at a time, let's relight our beloved old signs

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 14, 2014 - 4:49 PM

Good news for history and signage enthusiasts: the “Schmidt” beer sign in St. Paul, dim since the early ’90s, will be relit. Most of it, anyway. It once was much, much longer, but it was too costly to relight the “John Jacob Jingleheimer” part.

This makes Minneapolitans wonder: Why can’t our historic sign devoted to a popular, mild intoxicant get relit? The Grain Belt Beer sign, one of the great survivors of the era of gigantic incandescent promotion, has been dim for a decade. Why can’t we get it lit?

Because the NFL didn’t ask us to do it for the Super Bowl, for one reason. Sure, guys! You want LEDs, CFLs, incandescents or city employees with their heads shaved and coated with luminescent paint sticking their heads through the holes in the sign? Anything for you. We can even change the name to GRAIN BNFL.

Also, it’s expensive: Estimates to rewire the old sign range up to three-quarters of a million dollars, plus the annual cost of juice, unless they hook up bikes connected to generators and ask old-sign fans to pedal away to keep it glowing. We would, if they asked. Why?

Because it’s a huge, audacious monument to The Cold Reward after mowing the lawn. A colossal piece of signage that brings back the era when signs broke the night by blaring bright pride. The proposed overhaul of Hennepin Avenue should throw some coin to the sign — whatever the budget allots for Art, it won’t have the impact or glory of the Grain Belt sign.

Unless it’s an animated neon sign of the Hamm’s Bear perpetually running on a log in the lake.

If the sign’s relit, residents new and old will cheer, and then they’ll start lobbying for the Weatherball’s return. One thing at a time. One bulb at a time, if you wish: Let people buy bulbs, perhaps to honor Dad who always enjoyed a Grain Belt while he listened to the Twins on the radio. Why not? I’m in. And you?

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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