The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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November 16, 2013

Krohn: Signs of the times spoke well

Mankato signs of past sold tires, fixed windows, predicted weather

In recent weeks the long-standing overhang signs above Miller Motors in Mankato and Mutch Hardware in North Mankato were taken down to make way for redevelopment.

They'd been part of the landscape for many decades, advertising "brakes and alignment" at Miller's and "Window Repair" at Mutch's.

While there to promote a business, many advertising signs hold an iconic place in a community, either through their longevity, the popularity of the business or the sign's design.

Several current Mankato advertising structures have become comfortable pieces of the landscape, including the Tire Associates girl in the swing and the Happy Chef restaurant statue along Highway 169. The Chef statues once dotted the upper Midwest — most of them including a button kids could push to hear the chef talk — when nearly 60 of the restaurants existed. Today, the chef statue in Mankato remains one of the only ones left.

Just down the road from Happy Chef towers perhaps the city's most historically important sign — the lighted sphere atop the Dutler's Bowl sign.

The dramatic, neon Roto-Sphere signs were produced by Warren Milks in the 1960s. According to Roadsidearchitecture.com, 234 were made and only about 17 are left, with only seven fully operational.

Milks said he based the design on a children's toy or spinning Christmas ornament.

The 8-foot-long multi-colored spikes are mounted on a ball that spins in three directions.

The Dutler's sphere was installed in 1965. In 1980, the motor gave out and it was not replaced. Soon thereafter, the inside of the sphere was gutted. However, the sign is still lit at night. Dutler's restored the sign in 2007 with multi-colored neon, but it no longer spins.

Some well-known signs aren't big or dramatic, such as the Gunther's Cafe sign on Madison Avenue. The sign doubles as advertising for Gene Braam Accounting, located upstairs in the small building that formerly housed Hilltop Tavern. For decades Braam has posted clever sayings on the sign to amuse motorists.

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