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Return of the Dragon


Erik Sine

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Return of the Dragon: Iconic sign goes back up on 25th Street

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http://www.standard.net/Local/2015/01/29/Return-of-the-Dragon.html

OGDEN — The folks on Historic 25th Street haven’t been this excited since the repeal of Prohibition.

They’re calling it “Return of the Dragon,” and it’s not just a classic Bruce Lee martial-arts film. It’s also a well-deserved party for a long-very-nearly-lost friend.

The neon dragon sign that for more than 60 years loomed over the Star Noodle Parlor on 25th Street is finally back where it belongs. On Monday, crews from YESCO, the company that built the original sign, returned the dragon to its rightful place on the famed downtown Ogden street — whence it had been missing since 2008.

And now, on Friday, Feb. 6, a “Return of the Dragon” celebration is planned. At 5 p.m., refreshments will be served at the building at 225 Historic 25th St., including a “reinvention” of the famed shrimp salad that the Star Noodle Parlor used to serve. Then, at 5:30 p.m., comes the moment folks have been anticipating for more than six years: Following brief speeches by the appropriate dignitaries, the dragon will officially blaze back to life when a switch is thrown, exciting the dragon’s colorful neon tubes.

Carolyn Brierley, executive director of the Historic 25th Street Business Association, said her association’s members are all abuzz about the return of the neon dragon to its rightful place on the famed street.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Brierley said. “This is really a famous sign; I had no idea it was such an iconic landmark, even outside Utah. I think it’s going to bring us several visitors. We’re excited it’s going back in.”

In 2007, the Star Noodle Parlor building was sold, and the following year the dragon was removed for renovations to the sign and the facade. The dragon was supposed to go back up on the building later that year, but instead went into storage.

“It was going to be a temporary removal, to find out what was behind the fake storefront,” said Greg Montgomery, planning manager for Ogden City. “But then the economy went in a different direction.”

What was going to be a quick turnaround dragged on for months, and then years.

“We were just waiting for the economy to turn,” explained building owner Thaine Fischer.

According to Montgomery, the building went up in 1912, and housed both live theater, and later, a projection theater. It was originally called the Revere Theater. The following year it became the Cherry Theater, and then from 1914 to 1933 it was the Rex Theater, Montgomery said. It became Star Noodle Parlor in 1948.

The dragon sign wasn’t a part of the original building, so it didn’t qualify for historical status — and therefore any financial help through tax credits, according to Montgomery. As a result, Fischer admits renovating the dragon was “very expensive.”

“The sign itself is an iconic sign for the community,” Fischer said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t meet the criteria for a historical sign. … It’s iconic, but not historical.”

So then, why restore it?

“It was a community investment,” Fischer said. “When we bought the building, we loved the sign. It’s just an iconic sign that we love.”

For its part, the Landmarks Commission just wanted to make sure the dragon returned to 25th Street, according to Montgomery.

“What the Landmarks Commission didn’t want was for the sign to be removed and forgotten, where the owners say, ‘Oh? What sign?’ ” Montgomery said. “We’ve had others on the street take down signs and take them with them … although nothing as iconic as the dragon.”

The excitement about the return of the dragon has been building for quite some time now. Barbara Taylor is marketing director of R&O Construction, the Ogden company hired to do the renovation at 225 Historic 25th St. She says once folks found out R&O was doing the renovation on the old Star Noodle Parlor building, they were inundated with questions about the beloved dragon.

“We’ve had so many people asking us about it — ‘When’s it going in?’ ‘When’s it coming back?’ ” she said. “People are pretty excited.”

Because the building — which was actually two buildings with a common facade — sat empty for so long, there were some structural issues, according to Taylor. The company also had to level the sloped theater floor, and a tunnel was discovered beneath the building.

Fischer says a Salt Lake City restaurant, Pig & a Jelly Jar, will be opening a second location on the main level. An IT company will be housed upstairs. Other tenants are pending.

The original neon dragon sign was built by YESCO, of Salt Lake City. YESCO president Steve Jones said his company is honored to have handled the restoration of the dragon.

“YESCO had its beginnings in Ogden, in the early 1920s,” Jones said. “We played a role in 25th Street — including this sign — so this is a real treat for us.”

YESCO’s Steve White was the project manager for the dragon restoration. The neon wonder was delivered to YESCO, on a pallet, on Nov. 19, 2013, according to White, and he oversaw a crew of 10 to 12 people who completed various phases of the restoration.

White says it was pretty much a labor of love.

“For every hour I spent on the clock, working on it, I easily spent another hour off,” he said.

White figures he’s got about 200 hours, himself, invested in the project. The sign, which is about 10 feet tall and 12 feet long, includes more than 250 feet of neon, involving 68 separate pieces of neon tubing. It’s powered by 12 neon transformers, each with its own circuit.

“I’ve worked here since 2006, and this is easily the most complicated sign I’ve ever worked on,” White said.

During the restoration, workers carefully removed several layers of “skins” — metal coverings placed over the sign with each subsequent change in name. White says the “Rooms” reference restored to the current sign was on the original.

“We found something in the neighborhood of 10 coats of paint on the sign,” Jones said. “And I think we’ve maintained this sign since we first put it up.”

Although they can’t be certain exactly when the dragon was built, judging from the methods used, White guesses it was created “somewhere in the late ’30s or early ’40s.”

And the newly restored neon sign is getting glowing reviews.

“It’s great. They did a great job,” Montgomery said. “It’s been one of those missing pieces on 25th Street — this was the final missing piece.”

Taylor praises the fact that “it’s been all local involvement,” from the architect, to the construction company, to the sign restoration company.

“We’re excited because it’s a part of Ogden’s history, and we’re delighted to be a part of it,” Taylor said.

Added Fischer: “I think everybody, including ourselves, is excited to put the sign back up. I cannot wait to see it up there.”

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