Home Savings Sign Removal Spurs Call for a Sign Museum

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Wouldn’t it be cool if the large and iconic signs that once graced Mahoning Valley buildings and places could be saved and put on display?

Todd Hancock thinks so, and he’s found some support for his idea of a vintage sign museum.

Hancock, who is co-founder and director of Easy Street Productions theater company, got the idea while watching the giant Home Savings signs being removed from the top of the bank’s downtown building. The highly visible signs, which were on several sides of the top of the landmark building, loomed over downtown for decades.

Following the merger of First Federal Bank and Home Savings Bank, the combined bank was renamed Premier Bank. This week, 5 1/2-foot tall letters of the iconic Home Savings sign were replaced by the new branding.

Hancock would like to see the Home Savings sign – along with other iconic signs no longer standing – preserved to recognize their place in the city’s history.

Workers remove letters from the Home Savings signage.

He has has a proposed location for a Youngstown vintage sign museum: Community Alley, underneath the Market Street Bridge, between Covelli Centre and the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.

Vintage sign museums are nothing new; many cities have them, and the ones in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Boston are popular tourism attractions. They stir nostalgia and pride for current and former residents.

Hancock said his appreciation for signs stemmed from his theater career.

“I became a sign guy when I was collecting old vintage signs for [the set of] ‘Pump Boys and Dinettes,’ ” Hancock said, referring to a musical production that Easy Street first staged in 1989.

The show was a hit and was soon moved to the long-closed Uptown Theater on Market Street.

“When I saw the Home sign coming down it jarred me, because just a couple of months ago the Uptown Theater sign came down,” Hancock said. “A light bulb went off when I saw the Home sign coming down.”

That’s when the idea for an outdoor sign museum for Youngstown was born, he said. Hancock has contacted officials with Premier Bank, who he said reacted positively to the idea, although no further discussion took place.

“We just recently became aware of the idea and are very happy that the history of Home Savings is as special to others as it is to us,” said Kathy Bushway, chief marketing officer for Premier. “Having the sign letters displayed somewhere in the Valley would be a great legacy as we continue to serve our community as Premier Bank.”

Bushway said, in a statement, that the bank is open to exploring options regarding the sign and would be happy to discuss it with the city and other interested organizations. The proposal has not yet been brought before city council, but First-Ward Councilman Julius Oliver, whose district encompasses downtown, said he likes the idea.

“Anything that would bring people into town, that would make Youngstown a destination, is good,” Oliver said, although he cautioned that more study would have to go into determining the best location.

“It would be great to display those iconic signs and I’m sure there are people who want to remember that history,” he said.

H. William Lawson, director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, also likes the idea and is already taking action for its own purposes as a museum.

“The MVHS is interested in, and is in discussions with, Premier Bank for acquiring artifacts and documents related to the former Home Savings Bank, including indoor and outdoor advertising media,” he said in an email.

Lawson said signage is a visual document of a business’s contribution to the community and are valuable as both educational tools and museum exhibits.

He cited the General Motors Lordstown Assembly sign that was visible along the Ohio Turnpike until recently.

The Tyler History Center, downtown, which the MVHS owns and operates, already has on display one of the old Boardman Plaza signs, which was highly visible on U.S. Route 224 from 1975 until the early 2000s.

Lawson suggested a few other signs that would make sense for a Youngstown museum of signs.

They include the large Idora Park sign that once stood at the intersection of Canfield Road and Billingsgate Avenue, the Ralph Jordan’s Pink Elephant Lounge sign that still stands on Mahoning Avenue in Austintown and the Ice House Inn signs, with their upside-down lettering.

Hancock, who said he has gotten a lot of support for his idea from both young and old people, also suggested one of the original Arby’s Roast Beef signs, as well as the Uptown Theatre sign. Arby’s was founded in Boardman in 1964.

He described the Idora Park entrance sign as “the holy grail” because “no one knows where it is.”

Pictured: The Community Alley and adjacent park, along the Mahoning River in downtown Youngstown, is one proposed site for a museum of vintage signs. The area is under and around the Market Street Bridge, between Covelli Centre and the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.