History Shines Its Light On You: Communities Give New Life To Local Signs



In a delightful display of community care and engagement, an iconic sign in Kansas City has been relit for the first time in years. The Western Auto sign was installed in 1952 by the Western Auto Supply Co., a car parts start-up that saw its birth in the very same city almost 110 years ago.

Hometown History

The Western Auto Supply Co. was a beacon in the Kansas City community. With the invention of Ford’s Model-T car came the need for reliable car parts, and business boomed for the start-up. They expanded across the country, opening more than 1,000 stores but never forgetting their origins; their headquarters laid in the very same building that displayed the 73×70 foot neon sign.

In 1988, Sears purchased the company. They maintained their grip on the Kansas City jewel for 10 years, when they sold it to Advanced Auto Parts. By the end of 2003, the once-dominant business had been shut down, and the local community lost a significant piece of their history.

Statistics show that people who live within five miles of a business will see a sign 50 to 60 times a month — with the help of the Western Auto Lofts Homeowners’ Association (who now live in the building), the people of Kansas City will be constantly reminded of their city’s past and its vital role in the nation’s automotive industry.

“Anybody with a history in Kansas City feels a connection to that sign. A lot of people gravitate to it. It is something to behold.”

Museum Ignites a Passion For Historical Signs

Moving just a few states down and over, the southwestern city of Tuscon, Arizona, is experiencing a similar resurgence in local history connected to signage: the Ignite Sign Art Museum is set to open its doors this coming fall. Owned and operated by Jude Cook and his wife, Monica, the museum will be one-of-a-kind.

Displaying over 300 signs from Cook’s personal collection, he cited the subtle importance of signs as the driving force behind his passion.

“If there’s stuff out there that’s worth trying to preserve, I’m trying to get ahold of it so it doesn’t get thrown away. You don’t even appreciate [signs] until they’re gone. And then you forget about them.”

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