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Author Topic: Replacing the old (original) marquee
Doug Oldenkamp
Film Handler

Posts: 2
From: Corning, IA USA
Registered: Oct 2014


 - posted 05-29-2019 07:14 PM      Profile for Doug Oldenkamp   Author's Homepage   Email Doug Oldenkamp   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Our marquee is at the end of it's usable life. Trying to find a company who has/can build a new marquee. Assuming it will be a custom build. Our marquee is the horizontal V shape hanging off the front of the building. Does anyone have experience with acquiring a new marquee?

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Kenneth Wuepper
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From: Saginaw, MI, USA
Registered: Feb 2002


 - posted 05-29-2019 07:29 PM      Profile for Kenneth Wuepper   Email Kenneth Wuepper   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I have had contact with the Wagner Electric Sign Company. They do the FOX and others here in Michigan.

They can build whatever you need and will engineer the proper attachment to the building.

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Jack Ondracek
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From: Port Orchard, WA, USA
Registered: Oct 2002


 - posted 05-29-2019 08:40 PM      Profile for Jack Ondracek   Author's Homepage   Email Jack Ondracek   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The major sign company in our area did a nice job of re-creating the original marquees at two of our legacy cinemas. One has since been upgraded again including replacement of the original incandescent chaser lights with LEDs.

Perhaps a sign company in your local area can take on such a project.

Search Google Images for Roxy Theatre Sign and Bremerton Theatre Sign (Bremerton, WA).

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Terry Monohan
Master Film Handler

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From: San Francisco CA USA
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 - posted 06-02-2019 11:08 AM      Profile for Terry Monohan   Email Terry Monohan   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Doug the new marquess I have seen look very plastic. You will never mostly be able to duplicate the original marquee with neon and lights ect.
The sign companies today are very expensive with the design and installation and can try their best to make your outside marquee look similar.
Many theatres have not tried to put in the same look because of the cost and have installed a different type sign that still looks nice with LED's in place of classic neon.
At least you will have something semi new and safe as many multi cinemas today because of cost have no marquee to tell you what is playing inside, some don't even have any poster cases anymore.

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Marcel Birgelen
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From: Maastricht, Limburg, Netherlands
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 - posted 06-02-2019 05:19 PM      Profile for Marcel Birgelen   Email Marcel Birgelen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The problem is that most cinemas simply don't want to invest in the traditional marquee anymore. Maybe also, because they fear to be considered "outdated" by the younger movie-going public and they simply don't see the advertising potential in it.

But, a lot can be done with LEDs nowadays, far more than what we ever could do with neon and incandescent lamps... I've seen "neon signs" refurbished with flexible LED "neon" tubes that look indistinguishable from the real thing from any normal viewing distance.

Also, controlling LEDs for animation, is far cheaper and easier to do than with old incandescent lights.

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Bobby Henderson
"Ask me about Trajan."

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From: Lawton, OK, USA
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 - posted 06-02-2019 06:36 PM      Profile for Bobby Henderson   Email Bobby Henderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
There's a few reasons why we don't see contemporary movie theaters incorporating the classic style marquees over the front entrance of the building.

The most obvious reason: those classic marquees were made primarily for single screen theaters. Typical multiplex theater designs have larger front entrances and lobbies, which would require a retro-looking marquee to be enormous.

Cities across the United States all have sign ordinances that apply rules and restrictions to how signs can be built and installed. Some ordinances are far more restrictive than others. Generally speaking, communities that are trendy and have higher income levels often have far more restrictive sign codes. Street signs may be banned completely or limited to a small, low profile monument not much bigger than a tombstone. They'll put severe square footage limits on building signs. I fear these kinds of sign codes will be adopted by more cities and towns as a blunt method of city beautification. Signs and overall "store front personality" is the most important marketing tool for any brick and mortar business that depends on customers walking through the doors. Tiny, easy to miss signs make it more likely a potential customer may just stay home and buy online.

Even if a local sign code will allow a business to install large, elaborate signs many businesses choose to save money and install something modest and conventional.

Big changeable copy marquees are arguably a dated thing. They don't work well for modern multiplex theaters. LED "jumbotron" displays are replacing many changeable copy sign cabinets at all sorts of businesses since they look better and can be far more flexible and creative with the kinds of messages they can display. I don't see many movie theaters using them on their outdoor signs though.

IMHO neon is an endangered art form. Many current tube benders are aging fast. The one at our company is in his 60's and close to retirement. Not many younger people are learning the craft. There's just not enough demand for it.

20 years ago a typical lighted channel letter sign on a building had to use neon for illumination regardless if the glass was visible (open face letters) or not (covered with trim-cap acrylic faces). Now all channel letter signs are lighted with LEDs unless it's an open face design (a rare thing these days). LEDs have replaced neon for border lighting use. LEDs are now replacing regular HO/D fluorescent lamps in many conventional sign cabinets.

It's difficult to sell someone a sign with visible neon glass. The signs aren't cheap to make. And they're not cheap to service either. Bad weather/hail and vandals are a threat. So the maintenance cost factor is usually the deal breaker. Oh, and more than a few cities ban neon in their sign codes.

Nevertheless I'm still a big fan of neon. Nothing else looks like it. I've seen a lot of LED companies make all kinds of attempts at it, but they just don't work. You can't bend some LED "rope" the way you can bend neon and make the product retain its shape. The best that LED can manage is modest bends, which confines it to border use, not writing out letters and graphic shapes. I've seen neon make a bit of a resurgence in some trendy night life areas of bigger cities. Sadly it's on its way out elsewhere.

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James Wyrembelski
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From: Beaverton, MI, USA
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 - posted 06-04-2019 07:33 PM      Profile for James Wyrembelski   Email James Wyrembelski   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
We had a local company in the next county over do ours. While not a full marquee, they did do a traditional style vertical sign in neon.

Looks cool, and of course fits the single screen look. Aaand any bad weather usually means a tube needs replaced somewhere....

Still though, anyone that does neon is hard to find these days.

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Jeff Logan
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From: Mitchell, SD, USA
Registered: Feb 2002


 - posted 06-04-2019 07:53 PM      Profile for Jeff Logan   Email Jeff Logan   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Since you are restoring a single screen theatre, a traditional marquee with changeable letters does the best job of advertising for you and is historically authentic. Since the city supports your efforts, you should have no trouble with building codes.
My recommendation is to design the new marquee so it extends to about 2 feet from the edge of the sidewalk. The old marquees used to go right to the edge of the sidewalk and curb. But nowadays with large semi trucks delivering concessions and equipment, if they pull up to the curb, the camber of the street leans the box of the truck over the sidewalk and they can hit your marquee doing extensive and expensive damage.
A good, larger local sign company should be able to build a marquee for you but may not be experienced in designing a historic looking, functional or impressive theatre marquee. Bruce Sign Company here in Mitchell, SD has built several for me over the years and they all look great. I worked with owner Pete Bruce to design them. They do work in all the surrounding states and would most likely be happy to come to Corning, IA. If you would like, message me and I can send you more pics and contact info. I will try to post a picture of a new marquee Pete put on our historic single screen Dells Theatre in Dell Rapids, SD. We had to replace the old one after a truck hit hit for the second time! The old marquee did not have changeable letters so we added them and used every color of neon that was in the original marquee. I agree with one of the other posts that neon is expensive and fragile. Use straight lines of LED rope light and/or lots of flashing light bulbs around the border of the sign to draw attention to your sign and shows.

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Mike Blakesley
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From: Forsyth, Montana
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 - posted 06-04-2019 09:03 PM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Terry Monohan
You will never mostly be able to duplicate the original marquee with neon and lights ect.
Sure you can. All it takes is money. [Smile] A sign company can build whatever you throw at them, just be ready to shell out for it.

We have the traditional triangular marquee. It is 1932 vintage. It has 54 neon tubes (24 of which are behind the readerboards) and we just budget to spend about $500 to $1000 a year maintaining it, fixing breaks, etc....it's just the way it is. Our local Dairy Queen has some blue LED "neon-ish" stuff around their facade, it looks cool but it just doesn't have the "pop" of real neon.

I agree the neon guys are dropping like flies. We're currently on our third technician - the previous guys both retired and the current guy is in his late 50s. I hope he's working until I retire out of the business, if I ever do!

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Bobby Henderson
"Ask me about Trajan."

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From: Lawton, OK, USA
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 - posted 06-04-2019 10:37 PM      Profile for Bobby Henderson   Email Bobby Henderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: James Wyrembelski
Looks cool, and of course fits the single screen look. Aaand any bad weather usually means a tube needs replaced somewhere....
There are ways to provide at least partial, if not full protection to visible neon glass. If the neon is inside a channel letter the metal returns will provide some protection. Spend a little more on see-thru trim-capped clear acrylic faces the neon will weather storms much better. One thing is certain: it's a bad idea to just mount bare neon directly on a building or sign cabinet with no protection around it.

quote: Jeff Logan
Since you are restoring a single screen theatre, a traditional marquee with changeable letters does the best job of advertising for you and is historically authentic.
Obviously there are different kind of changeable copy signs. The kind that lend themselves to a historical appearance are ones that use individual slotted letters that hang on rails. The flat Wagner Zip Change or Gemini Pronto letters are cheaper but more contemporary looking.

quote: Jeff Logan
My recommendation is to design the new marquee so it extends to about 2 feet from the edge of the sidewalk. The old marquees used to go right to the edge of the sidewalk and curb. But nowadays with large semi trucks delivering concessions and equipment, if they pull up to the curb, the camber of the street leans the box of the truck over the sidewalk and they can hit your marquee doing extensive and expensive damage.
Whatever the new marquee's dimensions may be just make sure it's properly engineered to work with the building. Any sign company bidding on the project will want to double-check the local sign ordinance to see if there are any potential problems. Historic looking signs for movie or stage theaters have decent odds of winning a variance if there are any code violations.

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Mark Lane
Film Handler

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From: Crystal, Mi, usa
Registered: Apr 2019


 - posted 06-05-2019 02:43 PM      Profile for Mark Lane   Email Mark Lane   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
We are facing much the same situation.
What I am doing is taking the current roadside marquee sign that the previous owner purchased at Sam's Club. It is the type you would see outside a restaurant.
I am taking foam sculpturing, wood, metal and giving the sign a vintage old theater look.
The cost of updating a simple roadside electric sign into a retro theater marquee will be about $300.00

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Frank Angel
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From: Brooklyn NY USA
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 - posted 06-06-2019 02:22 AM      Profile for Frank Angel   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Angel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
An aside, but worth the tell: A theatre had closed in upstate NY and the developer was repurposing the building. The construction company was working on the front of the building, the task being to first remove the 1930s, classic marquee from the front of the building. There were cranes involved, supporting the marquee with iron workers at the ready to cut thru the four I beams supporting the marquee. The workers toiled away for hours cutting the beams until when the very last one was nearly cut thru, there was a massive rumbling that signaled nothing good. The iron workers quickly vacated their perches and the rumbled changed to an explosive, deafening roar as a massive dust cloud shot out of the front doors of the theatre. Luckily no one was in the interior because it turns out, the marquee was the counterbalance of the balcony structure. The marquee gone, the balcony ripped itself loose and crashed to the orchestra floor. Other than getting covered with dust, no one was hurt in this little engineering miscalculation.

Seems that beautiful historic marquees are not willing to go quietly into the night and certainly not with just as whimper.

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Bobby Henderson
"Ask me about Trajan."

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From: Lawton, OK, USA
Registered: Apr 2001


 - posted 06-06-2019 01:57 PM      Profile for Bobby Henderson   Email Bobby Henderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The same thought has to be considering when attaching a heavy marquee and perhaps a tall vertical "blade" sign to the building fascia. Unless the building's load-bearing members can handle the weight it's best not to even consider installing such a thing without working with an architect and structural engineer who knows all the details about the building.

Still, that's pretty crazy for the removal of a marquee to cause the collapse of a balcony inside the theater. Somebody somewhere didn't do something right.

quote: Mark Lane
We are facing much the same situation.
What I am doing is taking the current roadside marquee sign that the previous owner purchased at Sam's Club. It is the type you would see outside a restaurant.
I am taking foam sculpturing, wood, metal and giving the sign a vintage old theater look.
The cost of updating a simple roadside electric sign into a retro theater marquee will be about $300.00

I think those Sam's Club changeable copy signs are pretty cheap looking. It's not the most flattering type of sign to set out in front of a business unless the message on the board is along the lines of "live bait." We're talking about the kind that has a flashing arrow on top of it with a bare minimum number of bulbs, right? The changeable letters that go in those cabinets are flimsy compared to a Zip Change letter from Wagner or a Pronto letter from Gemini. They can blow out pretty easy in a storm. Given those signs are often placed out in front of a business in a portable configuration the whole thing can be blown over by bad weather (or bulldozed by a truck driver not watching where he is going). There is no locking, vandal-proof cover to prevent pranksters from re-arranging letters to spell out curse words.

As for that $300 price, that might be the time/materials cost for someone doing a DIY job in the garage on a Sam's Club sign. A proper retro-looking movie theater marquee permanently installed above the box office is going to cost considerably more.

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James Wyrembelski
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From: Beaverton, MI, USA
Registered: Sep 2015


 - posted 06-06-2019 04:52 PM      Profile for James Wyrembelski   Email James Wyrembelski   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Bobby Henderson
A proper retro-looking movie theater marquee permanently installed above the box office is going to cost considerably more.
Ours was quoted at almost 20K and isn't overly elaborate. They ended up giving us a hefty discount because they wanted to be apart of the renovations and also use us as an example of their work. But yes, they are quite a sizable expense.

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Mike Blakesley
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From: Forsyth, Montana
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 - posted 06-06-2019 06:46 PM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Bobby Henderson
One thing is certain: it's a bad idea to just mount bare neon directly on a building or sign cabinet with no protection around it.
That's for sure. 22 of the tubes on our marquee are on the faces of the sign, including one that wraps around the top of the "spire" in the front center. I've wished for some sort of protection for all of it, but have never found anything that would not look ridiculous and/or partially hide the neon. So I've learned to live with it. Icicles, frisbees, rocks, hailstones and the occasional kid high-fiving the sign from the sidewalk are its natural enemies.

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