The Free Press, Mankato, MN


November 16, 2013

Krohn: Signs of the times spoke well

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


For many, bygone signs hold memories. Paul Vogel, the Mankato community development director, who oversees sign regulations, recalls many signs he remembers from years past.

"The Brett's sign was iconic. The Grand Theater had a cool sign and the Burton Hotel had a dramatic neon sign on top of the building."

Many memorable signs are tied to restaurants. Vogel recalls the rooftop, giant, lighted letters spelling out "Robbie's" on a fast-food joint where Zanz is now. There was the A&W sign on north Riverfront, and the big rotating chicken-bucket sign at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

And there was the Stone Toad bar sign (now Tav on the Ave). The sign, of a toad holding a martini glass, disappeared one night, not to be found again.

One of the most classic advertising pieces had to be the weather ball atop the Northwest Bank (now Wells Fargo) building in downtown Mankato.

The giant globe turned colors to advise people of the weather forecast: red for heat, white for cold, green for no change and blinking for storms.

A more famous cousin was atop the Northwestern National Bank in Minneapolis and served as a landmark for decades. That weather ball had its own jingle — "...when the weather ball is wearing green, no weather changes are forseen...." and each WCCO radio weather forecast started with a "weather ball weather forecast" introduction.

Vogel said the often more dramatic, overhanging signs that dotted downtown Mankato and other communities fell out of favor with city planners in the 1970s. "A lot fell into disrepair. There was some over-reaction that they could be a danger and fall."

But driven by nostalgia, Mankato eased its rules, allowing for overhanging and retro signs. The rules also allow building owners to repaint old signs that were often used as advertising on the side of buildings, such as the Coca Cola sign in Old Town and a Wrigley's Spearmint sign uncovered on the side of a building on Front Street when two other buildings were razed recently.

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