Western Auto sign countdown: Iconic neon beacon to light up KC once more

Condo residents hope to make dark Western Auto sign bright again

The sign atop the historic Western Auto building has been dark for some time. Residents of the building, redeveloped into condos, want to light it up again.
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The sign atop the historic Western Auto building has been dark for some time. Residents of the building, redeveloped into condos, want to light it up again.

The top of that wedge-shaped building at 21st Street and Grand Boulevard used to come alive each night with light and color as the Western Auto sign blazed above Kansas City.

It’s been dark for years, but beginning 8:45 p.m. Friday, it will be illuminated again.

The words “Western Auto” will be in red while white lights will form a repeating circular arrow around them.

You can thank the members of the Western Auto Lofts homeowners’ association, who live in the building. They footed the bill to repair and restore the iconic sign.

“The association is thrilled to give this gift back to the residents of Kansas City and can’t wait to be a part of the skyline once more,” said an announcement on the association’s Facebook page.

The sign is 73 feet high and 70 feet across. The letters are 10 feet tall.

The arrow is 150 feet long and is made of 30 tons of steel. It included about 2,500 incandescent bulbs.

The sign also incorporates about 1,000 feet of red and green neon tubing. It required five miles of wiring.

Infinity Sign Systems of Kansas City, which has worked with the sign since the 1960s, had the task of restoring it and installing more efficient LED bulbs.

“I was just down there yesterday morning and we did a quick test,” said Eric Pickett, a third-generation sign man and the account representative for Infinity Sign Systems. “Everything is looking great.”

The company is no stranger to sky-high signs, having worked on them at The Hilton President hotel, Tension Envelope and the new One Light and Two Light residential towers.

For the Western Auto project, Infinity first had to replace the old wooden catwalk that gave access to the sign with a safer aluminum one.

The 12-story building at 2107 Grand Blvd. was designed by Arthur Tufts and built in 1914-15 for the Coca-Cola Co. The property was triangular, which led to its distinctive curved side.

The Western Auto Supply Co., a Kansas City car parts start-up that would grow to more than 1,000 stores across the country, moved in during the 1920s and bought the building in 1951.

The next year the sign was installed and first lit on April 1.

Western Auto was bought out by Sears in 1988, the same year the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Western Auto was later sold to Advance Auto Parts.

The sign went dark in 2000 and has been lit only sporadically since.

MCZ Development purchased the building and two others next to it in 2003 and rehabbed them to create the first condominiums in the Crossroads district. They are managed by Copaken Brooks.

Western Auto Lofts Homeowners Association

Amelia Adamo, property manager for the Western Auto Lofts, declined to say how much the sign restoration project cost, but she and Pickett both think Kansas City will appreciate it.

“There’s a lot of community buzz and excitement about it,” Pickett said. “Anybody with a history in Kansas City feels a connection to that sign. Especially with the rebirth of the Crossroads. A lot of people gravitate to it. It is something to behold.”

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