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TOPIC: Old Building Signage needs help!!

Old Building Signage needs help!! 12 Aug 2003 17:14 #6390

  • MovieGuy
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This question is geared to any theatre owner that has the old vertical theatre sign on their building. Not only is it a pain in the butt to climb the bloody thing to change out bulbs, but what about bad sockets??? We have a few sockets that are shot, and need to be replaced. Anyone ever attempt the task? If so, how do ya do it?? I'm speaking of the porcelin (sp) sockets. There are no access panels anywhere. And the base portion seems to be a little larger than the hole cut in the sheet metal. Have any of you ever changed out this babies, and if so, how???/
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Re: Old Building Signage needs help!! 12 Aug 2003 17:28 #6391

  • Ken Layton
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Changing out bad sockets would probably be best done by a neon sign company in my opinion.
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Re: Old Building Signage needs help!! 12 Aug 2003 20:49 #6392

  • outaframe
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Yes, you have a problem on your hands!... Those ceramic sockets have threads on the outside of the portion that's protruding inside the sign... There are stamped copper "nuts" with a 1/4" flange (flared section) that butts up to the inside surface of the metal panel they're mounted through... Are you sure there's not a access panel somewhere?... If not, you will have to disassemble to sign (boxlike, hollow) to get to the "nuts"... It's probably put together with overlapping joints and either old fashioned metal screws, or machine thread screws... I would seriously consider either replacing the sign, or leaving the bulbs (11 watt sign bulbs?) in place for appearence, and floodlighting it with halogen flood/spots... OR retrofit it with LEDs... IF the sign is a "landmark" for your theater, it would be a shame to do away with it, unless it's in too bad a condition to restore!... Not gonna be a fun thing, no matter how you handle it!...
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Re: Old Building Signage needs help!! 12 Aug 2003 21:57 #6393

  • RoxyVaudeville
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Upright signs are very difficult to repair for just the reason you mentioned. No access to the interior. It seems as though they were designed to last as long as they thought the building would be there, or figured that every so may decades it would be replaced with a new one to fit the new times.

Many large movie palaces replaced their vertical signs several times during there first three decades of existance. After the 50s when things when to hell quickly they just took them down or left them dark.

My question is... what is wrong with the sockets? I have several sockets where the little metal contact in the base of the socket has broken off. The sockets are not the screw together type, but are flush with the surface, attached from the back with two screws going through the metal from the front. Impossible to get at. So what I have done in this case, since we can't replace the socket or the contact tab in the bottom, we build up a soder ball on the bottom of the bulb base so that it touches the bottom of the socket making contact so the bulb lights. That will work if that is the problem, but if anything else, you would have to open up the sign like outaframe said.

Good luck.

[This message has been edited by RoxyVaudeville (edited August 13, 2003).]
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Re: Old Building Signage needs help!! 12 Aug 2003 22:24 #6394

  • MovieGuy
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The sign is definitely not coming down. It has been dark for years (4 that I know of). As the bulbs died, they were never replaced. I actually got the downtown merchants association to flip for the bulbs. I've replaced about 300 so far. But between the climb, the buckets containing new bulbs, and a bag for the bad bulbs....I'm bushed!! I do have a lift coming to work on another downtown project, which that company is changing out the balance of the bulbs on the top 20 feet of the sign. There are about 5 sockets that are missing, or badly damaged. No access panels, sides look like they were welded together. A few sockets are missing the outer ceramic collar, some are missing the inserts. I guess, even if I get 490+ of the 500 lamps lite, it won't be the end of the world. Sign was worked on about ten years ago by a local sign company. But, they don't want to touch it, as they no longer have a cherry picker capable of reaching the top. The outside perimeter of bulbs used to chase, but the chaser has been disabled (but still works). Our sign is featured in a few tv commericals and daily news casts, of course its not lit up, but still is beautiful. I just want to spice up a dying downtown district. The downtown merchants have been after me for 2 years to get it up and running. I've done what I can using rockclimbing rigs to strap me to the beast!
.
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Re: Old Building Signage needs help!! 12 Aug 2003 23:22 #6395

  • RoxyVaudeville
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I'd like to see a picture of it.

As long as those 10 or so bulbs aren't all close together, no one will notice.

As far as the chaser effects equipment... Action Lighting has about every kind of controller that you would need. Not that expensive either.
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Re: Old Building Signage needs help!! 12 Aug 2003 23:24 #6396

  • outaframe
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OK, as long as the sign is solidly mounted and safe, and still looks good, replacing it just doesn't make any sense... I didn't realize it was quite THAT high when you posted this, but since it is, I would seriously consider floodlighting it, with 400 watt Metal Halide reflector floods, one on each side, and call it done!... Nothing looks worse than a multi-bulb sign with a bunch of non-operating bulbs... If you are in a fairly dark location, those Metal Halides can be installed a bit below the bottom of the sign and aimed upwards to light the whole sign... They're nice and bright (40k lumens) very white (4k degrees Kelvin) and last about 10k hours... AND you won't end up getting hurt when you need to replace the lamp... Good Luck!...

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Re: Old Building Signage needs help!! 13 Aug 2003 01:18 #6397

  • Ken Layton
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For the sockets that just have the outer porcelain screw-on part missing, you can cut a short length of pvc pipe to use as an insulator so the socket doesn't short circuit to the frame. You can put a small dob of silicone glue to hold the new 'insulator' in place.

Also check with Action Lighting to see what types of sockets they sell.

[This message has been edited by Ken Layton (edited August 13, 2003).]
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Re: Old Building Signage needs help!! 13 Aug 2003 10:31 #6398

  • Mike
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If all that is the problem is a few busted sockets you could fabricate a "jumper" socket to hold a smaller bulb in the right location. Paint right and it's gone. The other thing to do is maintain the existing ones so that they don't go fritz on you.

Michael Hurley
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Michael Hurley
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Re: Old Building Signage needs help!! 13 Aug 2003 13:30 #6399

  • jimor
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Yes, those Vertical Signs were a glory in the old days, but today they can be a real headache! You should see the video (at Theatre Hist. Soc.) of one being removed in Oregon and how the crane tipped over due to underestimating the weight; funny to watch, but I pity the poor contractor and the owner who had to pay to repair the sidewalk as the sign fell.

Some theatres have the money to have the whole vertical replaced, and that was done for the FOX in Detroit (see "Signs Of The Times" magazine of July, 1989 for a fascinating cover story about the making of this one), the ORIENTAL in Chicago, and several others, but that takes $$$. And it is true that many modern sign companies will not tackle the job except for an exhorbitant fee, due to the dangers inherent in the height, working conditions, and the failing sign itself. While converting it to LEDs would be nice, the cost may be as much as making a new one, and having a professional retrofit it with newer bulbs/sockets might also cost that much (there seldom being more than a wiring access panel near the bottom of a vertical). Yes, the sign makers did intend them to be replaced as a whole when they eventually rusted out, so only a riggers' rack at the top of the sign 'sometimes' existed to hang a bulb changer from. Dont be too hard on the sign maker; they were in competition like everyone else, and must build a sign that the owner can afford that won't take a whole new superstructure to hold the weight. These factors coupled with the restrictions on the size/types of signs that many cities have (the RIVERSIDE in Milwaukee had to go to the state supreme court to get its vertical!), show that sign companies made works of art under heavy limitations. And after 50 years, how many other things look good as new and still work that way?

The suggestion by Outaframe is good; using a reflector HID lamp on the canopy to shine up onto the vertical will save you a lot of danger and problems. If you have the balls to go up on that sign once again consider removing the bulbs that remain and replacing them with some highly reflective discs: metal with aluminum glitter glued on, mirror circles, aluminized plastic lamp reflectors? You would then disconnect the original power to the vertical to avoid future short circuits and the consequent possibility of fire as the insulation decays.

True, the above would not give you any animation, but if that is mandatory, and you can stand some time hanging up there again on a dry, windless day, you might install LOW VOLTAGE lighting. That can take the form of bulbs/sockets, flexible plastic tubes containing incandescent bulbs, or LEDs in strings or as clusters. You would first disconnect all the original power to the sign, then decide how you want to animate it. Since the sequencer is still there and workable, consider running a new wire harness from it and new step-down transformers, on the building edge of the sign held in place with cable clamps screwed into the sheet metal. Then you would run a jumper pair to each NEW socket mounted into or upon the old one or its location. There are long life low voltage bulbs available, but getting even 20,000 hours out of a bulb is difficult.

Putting a diode or dimmer into the line to cut the current (and light) in half, will prolong the life of the bulbs, but not as much as you might like. There are now available clusters of LEDs that would have some appeal at night, but are still quite expensive and would likely require a regulated power supply, probably with multiple voltage outputs since blue requires a different voltage than yellow or red. Unless you are experienced in electronics, you would do best to hire a consultant/designer in electronics or ask a sign maker to make a complete overlay for the sign that you would install as several sections to fit over the face of the sign and be screwed to it. If done in heavy, painted aluminum sheeting with the low voltage lights premounted and the wiring harness hanging off to the side (ready for its mounting), you might have the best of all worlds: a handsome new face that won't rust (same design as original?) plus low voltage lights that would be safer to service and easier to replace in future. Since rust will become ever more a problem, it may pay in the long run to consider an overlay something like I describe, and which a sign company would probably be eager to fabricate and hoist up there, since their profit on the job would justify the installation.
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
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Re: Old Building Signage needs help!! 13 Aug 2003 17:24 #6400

  • MovieGuy
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I had a few LED sample bulbs shipped to me. I believe the cost was around 30 bucks a bulb. Multiple that by 500, and your broke!!!! I will talk to the electrican about your suggestions for socket replacement, and see what he has to say. As for a picture....lets wait until the remaining bulbs are in place. We are considering placing halides on the canopy. We have the same type of sign that the Riverside in Milwaukee has. There's is a little taller than ours! You know, it probably wouldn't be such a task to climb it, if the steps were a little thicker/wider and easier to hold onto. The company that I work for wasn't too positive of me climbing the damn thing. Perhaps, they thought I would sue them, if I fell.
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Re: Old Building Signage needs help!! 13 Aug 2003 19:42 #6401

  • outaframe
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I hunted up that Riverside sign and it's HUGE... You couldn't get me to scale up that thing with a whip and gun!... My LED suggestion was based on a do it yourself project, and on a MUCH smaller scale... Individual 5mm LEDs are available in bulk for less than 50 cents each, and replacing an 11 watt sign bulb with a cluster of 5, or so, would be doable, but 500, or more bulbs, puts it close to a pipedream, and would require a takedown of the sign to accomplish, AND putting it back up, and that's a major ($$$$) thing!... IF you are experienced with electronics, it COULD be done, but it would a be a logistical and wiring nightmare, at best... The more I hear about this, the BETTER the Metal Halide floods looks!...
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Re: Old Building Signage needs help!! 14 Aug 2003 07:53 #6402

  • jimor
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Guys, I guess that I should have made clear that the RIVERSIDE's vertical I was talking about was the one and only they had, and it was removed in 1967 (the city started taxing signs by the square foot in a 'modernization' binge at the time -- let's face it: many old theatre signs remained then from the glory days and were NOT maintained and the sign industry itself lobbied to get them removed since the theatres could/would no longer repair/repaint them) and today they have only a canopy with painted plastic panels back lit by fluorescents. There was a string of those old giant verticals down Wis. Ave. and I miss them -- even if they did need work! They added a sense of drama to the night, but in climates like Milwaukee's the snow and ice of even one season can wreck neon tubing and bulbs equal to a decade of life in the south or west. Such a pity.

(The book "Let There Be Neon" talks about such things and says that neon sign shops "broke out bottles of champagne" after an ice storm in anticipation of all the repairs they would be called upon to undertake. Evidently, not too many theatres had the money then to call, and the signs fell into disuse and decay, more's the pity.)
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
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Re: Old Building Signage needs help!! 15 Aug 2003 20:33 #6403

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jimor...

i remember my parents driving us down to wisconsin ave-milw to see the christmas lights/displays back in the early 60s. yup, i remember all the vertical theatre signs too! the book "milwaukee movie palaces" has a lot of images from back in the day.

our vertical sign finally got the balance of the new 11 watt bulbs installed on thursday morning. 6 bad sockets on the south side, and 2 bad sockets on the north side. had a couple bulbs not light, so the lift will be used again on saturday, as the downtown upgrade project is completed. that project is the facing of minature lamps outlining each building in the downtown district. our theatre will not have these strips of lights on the building, as the corporation did not want them attaching anything to the building. however, the company doing the work will be back in town every year, with the large lift, to replace spent bulbs. they said that they will change out any lamps on our signage that i don't want to tackle. plus, he might install new sockets next time around. bravo! i shot a few images at dusk with my digital camera, and would post them here, if i could figure out how to do it, or if it is possible to do such a task. mike, if it is possibly, just let me know how to do it.
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Re: Old Building Signage needs help!! 16 Aug 2003 06:47 #6404

  • jimor
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Yes, Movieguy, I too enjoyed the photos and text in Larry Widen's "Milwaukee Movie Palaces" and he and his wife just held a lecture by that title at the Univ. of Wis. in Milw. If you look in the Acknowledgements in the book, you will find my name there. They hope to issue a sequel (writing is complete along with more photos) but cannot find the financing for the publisher.

I'm happy for you as to how things turned out! Having that company willing to tackle your vertical is great news! Solves lots of problems (now if only they would do any repainting for you too.) I'm looking forward to your photos, but you will have to tell us the name and location of the theatre, please.
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
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