Tuesday, June 1, 2010

An Old Metal Sign

One day almost 10 years ago, I was at Bauer Brothers, a venerable salvage yard in the Twin Cities. It's a sprawling place, both indoors and outdoors, with everything from reclaimed wood flooring and valuable architectural details to cheap kitchen sinks.

I can't remember my purpose for that trip, but while I was wandering around between the maze of doors and the light fixture bins, my eye fell upon a three-dimensional metal sign.

Sans serif metal letters reading McLELLANS, shot straight on
I wasn't sure what its purpose had been, but the letter shapes and spacing, the way the brass-colored letters were attached to the silver base, the C raised up above the baseline... it spoke to me of an unknown history. 20th-century commercial modern, definitely.

Many things at Bauer Brothers aren't marked for price. So I found one of the brothers and asked him how much, thinking to myself, If it's under $50, I'll buy it. I'm not a person who can bargain, and can sometimes pay way too much for things, so I wanted to be ready with my limit.

He looked at it, hefted it, then took out a magnet to see if it would stick (it didn't -- I guess it's aluminum). Finally, he looked at me and said, "$15."

I bought it, but I've never quite known what to do with it. I wondered, off and on, where it came from. It almost seemed like the type of sign you'd see above a bank tellers' cage, but McLellans couldn't be the name of a bank.

Then around five years ago, I was watching a PBS documentary about the lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville and sure enough, there was a quick shot of my sign (or one just like it) above one of the lunch counters.

It turns out McLellans is a defunct five-and-dime chain that had over 200 locations at one point. Most of them would have changed names by the 1960s, since it was bought by McCrory's in 1958, but at least the one in Nashville still had the original name and sign in 1960 when the sit-ins happened. (The Wikipedia entry on the Nashville sit-ins shows McLellan's on the map of lunch counters.)

Those who read my blog regularly know I'm generally interested in signs. Okay, maybe "interested" isn't a strong enough adjective.

But this sign is extra special. Although I'm sure it isn't from the Nashville store, it's a piece of second-hand history that came to me in a moment of serendipity.

Sans serif metal letters reading McLELLANS, shot from an angle

2 comments:

Carmella said...

That is SO COOL.

Steve-o said...

Very cool!

I do remember, growing up in the mid-60s, a couple of stores in the New York City area with a McCrory-McClellan-Green sign and logo.

Nice piece of history you've got there!