Dean Kahn

New letters for HERALD sign lifted onto roof; what’s next for the iconic landmark?

Watch as new letters are lifted into place for the sign atop the Herald Building

Daylight Properties is replacing a neon sign atop the Herald Building in downtown Bellingham with new LED letters. Crews with Signs Plus of Bellingham helped lift the first letters in place Monday, Sept. 12, 2016; the sign will be lit later this m
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Daylight Properties is replacing a neon sign atop the Herald Building in downtown Bellingham with new LED letters. Crews with Signs Plus of Bellingham helped lift the first letters in place Monday, Sept. 12, 2016; the sign will be lit later this m

The sign atop the Herald Building could be glowing LED red within a few days, opening a new chapter for the iconic downtown landmark that will include a rainbow of moving colors.

On Monday, Sept. 12, a crane operator, and workers from Signs Plus and Daylight Properties lifted 12 new aluminum letters for the two-sided sign to the roof, and lowered an equal number of old steel letters to the ground.

The final steps over the next few days will be hoisting the new letters into place on the sign’s 40-foot frame, and making sure the programmable LED lighting system is working.

“It basically was all pre-assembled and programmed here in the shop,” said Jim Sutterfield, president of Signs Plus, the Bellingham company that made the replica 10-foot-tall letters. “Getting the letters up on the structure is a big task.”

The new sign could be ready to shine by Wednesday night or soon thereafter. Plans are to illuminate the sign red, to mirror the traditional neon red that had been in place for decades, before changing the sign to Viking blue as part of the inaugural “Paint B’ham Blue” events planned for Wednesday, Sept. 21, the first day of classes at Western Washington University.

“It will just be red until the Western thing,” said Bob Hall, who owns the Herald Building, and sign, with David Johnston.

90 years old

The sign was installed when the building at Chestnut and North State streets was constructed in 1926. The original sign was illuminated by more than 300 incandescent bulbs, then was changed to neon four years later. Whatever the lighting system, the sign has remained a familiar sight and helpful guide to people from the land, sea and air.

In March 1990, to mark The Bellingham Herald’s centennial year of publication, the sign was activated for nightly illumination, ending many years of off-and-on – but mostly off – use. The newspaper again switched off the sign in late 2000 during the energy crisis, but the sign was turned back on in late summer 2006. Three years later, The McClatchy Co., the newspaper’s parent company, sold the building, including the sign, to Hall and Johnston.

Plans to replace the aging steel letters and neon system began more than a year ago, and workers started lowering the old letters to the roof in mid-August. The new sign costs about $100,000, including a small contribution from The Bellingham Herald.

I just made sure I had plenty of boom.

Jeff Likkel, owner, Precision Crane

The aluminum letters are sturdy; the steel ones weigh about 100 pounds, the new ones weigh about 250; and the LED system will save energy costs and enable the owners to display an array of colors and moving patterns.

Busy day

The right-hand traffic lane by the building was closed by 9 a.m. Monday, and a rig from Precision Crane of Lynden was positioned near the corner of State and Chestnut.

At vertical, the tip of the crane’s boom reached about 10 feet above the flagpole atop the building, reaching a total of 125 feet from the street to the tip.

“I just made sure I had plenty of boom,” said Jeff Likkel, Precision’s owner who operated the crane.

It’s an iconic part of the building, a little bit of history.

Dan Bothman, who bought an ‘E’ from the old sign

Workers used heavy-duty straps when the crane lifted the new letters, which were carefully laid to rest on the roof; then lowered the old letters two at a time in a specially built metal-and-wood frame to make more room for new letters.

By 3 p.m. they were done. Workers then carried by hand an “E” into the first-floor Herald Building office of La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza and Fiamma Burger, and an “A” into Argyle Salon, next door to the Fiamma office.

Dan Bothman, Fiamma’s co-owner, said he had thought about painting an “F” on a wall in the office, but realized the “E” could be displayed with the lower leg of the letter enclosed in a cabinet so it looks like an “F,” complete with neon.

“It’s an iconic part of the building,” Bothman said, “a little bit of history.”

Clara Senger, co-owner of Argyle Salon, said she will display the “A” on a wall or a window at her salon in the northwest corner of the building. She is less concerned about whether the neon works because she is more interested in the letter’s A-ness, its history, and its weathered appearance.

“I really like the way it looks worn,” Senger said. ‘It’s an original landmark.”

The unclaimed old letters were taken to a storage building to await decisions from other potential buyers. Each old letter costs $1,000 to purchase.

“There’s a multitude of other interested parties,” said Kane Hall, CEO of Daylight Properties and the son of Bob Hall. “They’re going fast.”

Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291