Weingarten Realty lived up to its promise as workers reinstalled the neon letters on the 1939 street sign that once marked the Alabama Theatre — the vintage movie house set to become the first Trader Joe's within the Loop.
CultureMap dropped by the site recently to watch the newly-restored landmark come back to life.
"We've been working on the sign from the top down," said lighting specialist John Otto from Coast Graphics and Signs, the company tasked with the lighting restoration. "Let me tell you, though, it's really hot up there. The sign's shaped like a chimney and all the heat rises right up to the top."
"Let me tell you, though, it's really hot up there,"lighting sp ecialist John Otto said. "The sign's shaped like a chimney and all the heat rises right up to the top."
The workspace inside the tall metal sign is narrow, dark and incredibly warm. A ladder leads to the top of the spire, where workers pieced together the complicated wiring that will light the newly-installed neon..
As the were before, the letters will remain open to reveal the strips of light, a look Otto described as "skeleton neon." The inside surfaces of each letter have been painted bright white, while the exterior sides enjoy a fresh coat of orange.
Inside the old movie theater, dust continues to swirl on a massive interior renovation. The decorative Art Deco pieces that adorned the original cinema have been reattached and the fluted curves of the north wall have a fresh coat of plaster. The long hallway on the Whole Earth side of the space has been dry-walled on both sides, including the row of openings leading to what will be the main food aisles.
Pink and turquoise railings — not sure whether they were made for the theater or the bookstore that replaced it — are stacked in the large open foyer leading to the rear parking lot. At the moment, it remains to be seen how the metal banisters might be repurposed for the new grocery store or if they'll be reused at all.