On a recent clear June morning, as downtown workers began to pour into the city on their morning commute, a small but monumental change was occurring five stories above them.
Jim Sherry of S&S Sign Services walked along the scaffolding atop the old Dispatch building, which now houses the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. In his hands were two large black plastic numbers: a “5” and a “0”.
With a bit of drilling, Sherry replaced the “149” on the historic Columbus Dispatch sign to show 150 years of service, and thus helped bring the newspaper into a new era.
Thursday marks The Dispatch’s 150th anniversary. It’s also been 50 years since the awe-inspiring Dispatch neon sign atop 34 S. 3rd St. illuminated Capitol Square and welcomed downtown dwellers to the city.
From the publisher:How The Dispatch has worked in community service since July 1, 1871
As Sherry updated the number of years of service on the expedition panel, her colleague and son-in-law Jose Diaz looked up in admiration. The sign’s soft electric glow could still be seen in the morning light as Sherry replaced the neon “OH” in “OHIO’S GREATEST HOME NEWSPAPER”.
“You don’t see stuff like that anymore,” Diaz said. “That neon? It’s retro.”
Signs of the times
The newspaper maintained a sign on the roof for almost as long as Columbus had the Dispatch.
The iconic sign that currently adorns the old Dispatch building on 3rd Street has been around since 1958, with an improved banner added in 1971 as a gift to celebrate the newspaper’s centenary. But this is not the city’s first shipping sign.
The first recorded expedition sign stood atop its building at the corner of Gay and High Streets in the 1910s and 20. Dispatch Corner, as it was called during World War I, had an “Electrograph” sign on its back. roof, which featured the Dispatch Bulletin, which published headlines using light bulbs to spell words.
When the Dispatch moved into its historic home on Capitol Square in 1925, a new sign was erected. He proclaimed the newspaper “Ohio’s biggest daily.” in red and blue neon uppercase letters.
An August 16, 1935 Dispatch article, after the sign was updated, again boasted: “From the top of The Dispatch building, the largest neon sign in Columbus burns every night.”
“Barely finished, it is 50 feet high and 56 feet wide, atop the five-story building,” the article read. “This is unusual work, as evidenced by statistics about it compiled by the Yoerger Sign Co., the builders.”
The letters in the word “Dispatch” were eight feet high. Seven hundred and thirty-two feet of neon tube was used to create the sign, and the weight of the glass alone was 300 pounds.
In 1958, the sign changed again, with this one also declaring The Dispatch as “Ohio’s largest domestic newspaper,” in all capital letters, the same phrase the sign carries today. The Dispatch sign got an additional upgrade in 1971 for the newspaper’s centennial when a slogan adding “100 years of service” was added at the bottom against a yellow bar background. The font used for the word “Dispatch” has also been changed to reflect the current title of the document. The number of years of service is updated annually no later than the anniversary of the Dispatch.
“It would be difficult to imagine Columbus without the sign of the expedition”
When The Dispatch was acquired by New Media Investment Group, the holding company of GateHouse Media in 2015, readers were asked a multitude of questions.
The first question many readers asked was not “What will happen to my subscription?” but rather “What will happen to the shipping panel?”
Becky West remembers receiving a number of these calls. The executive director of the Columbus Landmarks Foundation said many Columbus natives were worried about The Dispatch’s fate – some about the newspaper itself, but many about the sign.
“(The sign) has been around for over 100 years, so people across generations have fond memories of it,” she said. “I think this sign is a welcome downtown. It really is a friendly way to enter the city and know where you are.”
While the Dispatch building on 34 S. 3rd St. was not included in the newspaper sale, luckily for Dispatch readers, the neon sign was.
But due to its massive size, the sign could not be moved to Dispatch’s new smaller home at 62 E. Broad St. catty-corner at its old home. (This can also be seen from the windows on the fourth floor of the Newsroom, a vivid reminder of memories and war stories for the newspaper’s seasoned reporters, and a relic of the Dispatch’s illustrious past for young journalists who do not ‘have heard stories of old building work.)
There is something about neon signs like the Dispatch that people feel connected to, said Tod Swormstedt, founder of the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati. This sentiment, however, is difficult to express.
“Why do people like old signs? Said Swormstedt. “I can never hit him on the nail, I just have to talk about it.”
There is something reassuring about an image that has been around for a long time, he says. It’s like seeing an old-fashioned Coca-Cola sign and remembering the hot summer days while drinking soft drinks from glass Coke bottles. This experience, Swormstedt said, is no different with the Dispatch sign.
“People have this memory of taking the morning paper and reading it with their coffee,” Swormstedt said.
It’s also something that’s a long-standing facet of the community, and something that elicits an emotional response in some ways, Swormstedt said.
“We’re in a time when things come and go. A sign like this… it’s something solid that we can hang on to,” he said.
West said the Dispatch sign, like most billboards, was created to establish an identity for the building, which was listed on the Columbus Register of Historic Properties in 2016. But over time, has it. she stated, it evolved and took on an identity of its own.
The sharp angles of the metal scaffolding, the flowery red neon letters, the way the signs appear against a nocturnal horizon of grays and browns – this is something that would probably never exist today otherwise.
“It’s an example of something that’s so iconic that it’s become part of the landscape,” West said. “It would be hard to imagine Columbus without the expedition sign.”