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Kirkland's Sign Factory recreates Seattle's landmark Paramount Theatre sign

A welder for The Sign Factory works on the replacement for the old Paramount Theatre sign in downtown Seattle. - Matt Phelps, Kirkland Reporter
A welder for The Sign Factory works on the replacement for the old Paramount Theatre sign in downtown Seattle.
— image credit: Matt Phelps, Kirkland Reporter

For 80 years, the 65-foot sign has hung outside of the Paramount Theatre in downtown Seattle. But 80 years is a long time for a steel sign to hang 100 feet above the sidewalk.

“It was crumbling. You could put your finger through it,” said Ken Naasz, Vice President of Design and Development for the Kirkland-based company, The Sign Factory, which has been commissioned to create a replica sign to replace the landmark.

The sign has been deemed “the most significant sign in Seattle” by the City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board.

“We have taken great pains to keep its integrity,” said Naasz. “This kind of project doesn’t come around very often so we understand how big this is.”

The pressure to get this project perfect is not lost on the employees of The Sign Factory.

“It is kind of like in sports,” said Jim Risher, president of The Sign Factory. “You want to get to the big game, and this is the big game for us.”

The painstaking process began in December of 2008 and the new $616,000 sign is expected to be installed Oct. 7.

“We had to get permission from the Preservation Society and other things,” said Risher. “The approval process took six months.”

The new sign, which will take three months to build, will be made up of 44 percent recycled aluminum instead of steel and will be extremely “green.” The sign will still have neon lighting for the lettering but the trademark lights of the era will be LED and save the Seattle Theatre Group an estimated $30,000 a year on energy costs.

“This sign is 90 percent more efficient,” Risher added.

Employees took video of the lights to match the exact timing the original bulbs produced. Then they had to match it.

“We shopped the world to find LEDs that matched the old “twinkle” bulbs that were used on the sign,” said Risher.

The sign was originally given a life span of 20-30 years when it was erected in 1928. But maintenance and a lot of repair has kept the sign upright and glowing. The new sign is expected to last 100 years.

The new sign is made of six different pieces that are more than 20 feet in height. The Sign Factory employees had to make hand rubbings in order to get the exact measurements and design of the original sign.

But it’s not all out with the old parts of the sign. The same supports from the old sign will be used for the new sign as they are structurally sound and were built into the framework of the building. And all the old electrical components that are housed in a room above the lobby will remain as a reminder of what once was despite having no use.

The Paramount Sign is The Sign Factory’s biggest single-piece project, and the most historically significant project, it has undertaken in the 35 years the business had been in Kirkland.

The original sign went through some renovations. It originally read “Seattle” instead of “Paramount.”

“I think it would have been around the 1940s but that is only an educated guess due to the addition of the neon,” said Risher.

The Seattle Theatre Group is currently trying to raise funds to pay the remaining $150,000 of cost for the project.

“With all the careful work that has been put into creating each part of this project, we are confident the public will be happy with the results,” said Josh LaBelle, STG’s Executive Director, on the organization’s Web site.

The crew at The Sign Factory is looking forward to seeing their year-long project come to life and the feeling of pride that will go along with it.

“(That feeling) is outstanding and it is why we do this,” Risher said.

To donate to the fund, go to www.stgpresents.org and click on “donate.”

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