- Associated Press - Sunday, July 3, 2016

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Several iconic neon signs from Rapid City’s past are now in a city storage facility, waiting for a plan for them to shine again.

The collection includes the Club Canyon Lake sign, created in 1940; the Plaza Sands Motel from 1957, Howard’s Body Shop from 1940, the Davis Motel from 1950, the Tip Top Motel from 1954 and Woolworth’s Luncheonette from 1955, the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/29gvjCn ) reported.

Paul Swedlund, a member of Historic Rapid City’s board of directors, rounded up the signs in the 1990s. Until last week, they were displayed at Sports Rock Pizza on 7th Street, the former Hooky Jack’s restaurant.

That building is now being remodeled to serve as office space. That’s why the signs went into storage last Thursday.

Swedlund said that at the time he rescued them, there wasn’t a demand for neon signs like there is now.

“A lot of businesses were getting rid of the old signs and I kinda kept an eye on them, and as they came down, I either went to the business and said ‘do you mind if I take the sign?’ or even the sign company, knowing my interest, would call me,” Swedlund said.

He recalled how he loaded them into his 1980 El Camino and took them to a storage building until they could be restored.

Later in the 1990s, the Modern Woodmen of America offered a grant to help restore the signs and Rosenbaum’s Signs restored them, “basically for 1950s prices,” Swedlund said.

Jean Kessloff, president of Historic Rapid City, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the history of the city, appealed to the Rapid City Council on June 6 for help in moving the large signs so they did not have to be sold.

“Who doesn’t remember eating at Woolworth’s Luncheonette? Or the go-go dancers at the Canyon Lake Club?” she said, asking for about $5,000 to move the signs.

Since her request was not on the agenda, the council voted to acknowledge the report. After the meeting, the mayor’s office and council worked on a memorandum of understanding with the nonprofit group.

The MOU says the City of Rapid City assumes ownership of the signs and the city agreed to pay Historic Rapid City $3,400, which came out of the professional services portion of the budget, according to city spokesman, Darrell Shoemaker.

Historic Rapid City used that money to pay Conrad’s Big C Signs to move the old signs.

The MOU states that Historic Rapid City has the right to repurchase the signs for the same amount. If the city wants to dispose of the signs, it has to give 60 days notice.

The city will store the signs with the goal to display them somewhere publicly in the near future, Shoemaker said.

Swedlund said Historic Rapid City hopes to come up with a design plan soon to display the fully-functioning signs together in Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

“We want to concentrate them together to create an ambiance,” Swedlund said. “So people can see what Rapid City was like, bathed in neon as it was.”

He said many cities, including Tucson, Las Vegas and Portland, Ore. are doing similar things with their old signs.

Swedlund said he knew when he began collecting the signs that one day people would appreciate them as much as he did then.

“Oh, yeah, I considered the signs to be American folk art even then,” Swedlund said. “This is something that you can’t replicate anymore. I knew then very well that these were important relics of American history. I knew sooner or later that things would catch up.”

He explained for newcomers to Rapid City that the Plaza Sands Motel was a vintage motor court that, “represents that period of Rapid City in the early tourism days, when people were driving to the Black Hills.”

He said the Davis Motel sign is significant because the motel, located along West Main Street in the area commonly known as “The Gap,” was washed away in the historic 1972 flood.

“Coincidentally I happened to be in automobile junkyard looking for parts in the ‘90s, and I found this sign in the junkyard,” Swedlund said. “So instead of parts for my old car, I talked the salvage yard into selling me the sign. I think they sold it to me for $30 bucks, but I put in my old El Camino and took it to storage.”

He said Club Canyon Lake was a very popular Rapid City hangout during its time.

There is another historic sign, now in a private collection, that he is still looking out for. He calls the Rapid City Laundry sign the “crown jewel” of Rapid City neon.

“She was called Mother Rapid,” Swedlund said of the sign’s animated character. The sign, dating to 1928, shows a washwoman at a washtub. In the moving sequence, she scrubs clothes up and down.

Putting the signs into an exhibit gives Swedlund a special charge.

“I saw to their restoration and now I’ve given them to historic Rapid City who is going to give them to the city,” he said. “We are on the threshold of having the signs in the hands of the city as a part of the city’s story, a part of the city’s history. They kind of belong to everybody.”

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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