Each year, Bill Rose, photographer and owner of Recapturist, drives thousands of miles along the nearly forgotten two lane highways and back roads of America on a quest to photograph whatever vintage signs remain along the roadside. These fading relics of the country’s enterprising past have stood for decades but are now highly endangered as ‘progress’ continues to win the war against preservation.
Although his travels have taken him to every corner of the US, he’s discovered that his adopted home of Minnesota has almost as many great vintage signs as it does lakes. Here are a few of his favorites.
Mobil Pegasus (Medina, MN)
You simply can’t miss this sign as you travel Highway 55 through the western Minneapolis suburbs. Manufactured by Texlite, the same company that made the one that sits atop the Magnolia Building in Dallas, this beautiful double-sided porcelain sign stands a full 15 feet wide. In fact, it’s rumored to be one of only two still standing with these dimensions. This well-kept sign first arrived in Minnesota back in 1982 after being purchased from a shuttered Exxon store in Broadus, MT.
Grain Belt Beer Sign (Minneapolis, MN)
Measuring approximately 50 feet wide by 40 feet tall, the Grain Belt Beer sign remains one of the largest freestanding neon signs in the Midwest. This local landmark sits on Minneapolis’ Nicollet Island and constitutes part of the “Gateway to Northeast” greeting all who cross the Hennepin Avenue bridge and enter the Northeast neighborhood from downtown, but this was not its original location.
When it was first built in 1941, it stood two miles away atop the Marigold Ballroom before being moved to its current home in 1950. The reason for the move was simple: the island location allowed for greater visibility and less competition. It has remained ever since.
Petschen’s Southview Liquor (St. Paul, MN)
This liquor store changed ownership just twice during its long history. The original owner purchased this building in 1968 from a family who was moving their garden and landscape business to an adjacent lot. He turned it into a liquor store which he ran successfully for 15 years. In 1983, he sold it to another man who carried the torch until 1996.
This late 1960s beauty faces perpendicular to the street staring at a brick wall about 30 feet away. It was moved back and forth during its prime, but is now fairly hidden from passersby to enjoy. Don’t blink!
Town Talk Diner (Minneapolis, MN)
The Town Talk Diner has become somewhat of a legend in Minneapolis. This establishment first opened its doors in 1946, and was built in a style known as Streamline Moderne, an evolution of Art Deco. The façade is clad in stainless steel and dutifully supports the huge, signature sign that faces the street. Turquoise enamel panels, thirteen light boxes, and countless incandescent light bulbs come together to spell out the restaurants’ name in capital letters.
This dramatic sign, which extends slightly wider than the storefront itself, was most likely designed to ensure that the restaurant wasn’t overlooked given its small stature.
**The enterprising restaurant owner figured his fancy sign would attract business from the World War II GIs who had recently been hired at the nearby Minneapolis-Moline tractor factory, but little did he know that his long, skinny diner would quickly become a short-order staple for many of the neighborhood residents.
Want to see and read more? Visit www.recapturist.com to see Bill’s entire collection of vintage sign photos from across the US, complete with accompanying history. Proceeds from print purchases go toward funding his future sign-shooting trips and related historical research.
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