Historic neon sign to be destroyed by the city of Vancouver

The Balmoral Hotel neon sign featured a stylish design and a clock


The City of Vancouver has decided to throw away the iconic Balmoral Hotel neon sign.

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The elaborate sign had been a fixture at 159 East Hastings since the 1930s and was one of the last survivors of Vancouver’s golden age of neon.

But the Balmoral Hotel fell into such disrepair that the City closed it in 2017. The building is now owned by the City, which decided to tear it down.

The four-story-tall sign had been left more or less out in the open in recent years and looked worn. The City dismantled it into three sections on June 26 and shipped it to Knight Signs in Delta.

“Several assessments were conducted to determine the condition of the sign before and after removal,” a City statement said. “These evaluations confirmed that it is not possible to save or restore the sign.”

Neon expert John Atkin strongly disagrees.

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“It’s complete and utter nonsense,” Atkin said.

“The poster was standing. Yes, the sign probably had a lot of problems, but if you really wanted to save the sign, like they originally said when they bought the Balmoral, then it’s possible to do so.

“Because nothing is in such bad shape. It could mean using the wireframe as a template, it could mean saving parts of it to include in the thing. But nothing, nothing, is insurmountable.”

Atkin has worked on several projects where old neon signs have been successfully restored or replicated. He recently worked with Knight Signs to make a replica neon sign for Barclay Grocery in the West End.

“There the sign was rusty and heavily corroded,” he said.

“But it was removed, and the sign shop used the existing sign as a pattern to recreate a new sign that is identical to the original. We reuse part of the glass.

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“If you intend to conserve, restore and rebuild, then you can. If your intention is to simply get rid of him and say (something) to justify your decision, then that’s what you do too. It’s basically BS.”

The Balmoral sign had a neon clock at the bottom.
The Balmoral sign had a neon clock at the bottom. jon murray photo /PROVINCE

Vancouver Councilman Pete Fry has a Balmoral sign in his kitchen. He was surprised by the decision to discard such a unique piece of Vancouver’s cultural history.

“That seems wasteful and lacks creativity; surely we can give it away for someone (other than City) to take/recover,” he said in an email. “Is anyone interested in that?”

In fact there is. David Ferguson of Low Tide Properties has inquired about the City’s purchase of the sign.

“We wanted to potentially buy it and then restore it,” he said. “I haven’t heard from anyone.”

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Ferguson said that Low Tide would still be interested in the sign if the City wanted to sell it, rather than tear it down.

“We’re interested in any cool neon signs in Vancouver or on the Lower Mainland,” he said.

The City may not want the sign to go into private hands due to the recent history of Balmoral, one of Vancouver’s most controversial SROs.

“The Balmoral, prior to its closure, was a site of harm and trauma for many former residents and their families, friends and community,” a city statement said.

“The sign is a symbol of the building and the City is sensitive to further re-traumatizing former residents and their families, friends and community.”

The sign is also symbolic of an imaginative era in Vancouver commercial signage.

“It starts at the top and turns in a little curve away from the building, enters the building and then curls up and all day (at the bottom),” Atkin said.

“It’s just a really nice piece of graphic design. This was designed in the early 1930s, and you’re in that period of art deco with those kind of curvy motifs.”

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Exterior of the Balmoral Hotel, between 1940 and 1948. (Photo: Jack Lindsay/Vancouver Archives)
Exterior of the Balmoral Hotel, between 1940 and 1948. (Photo: Jack Lindsay/Vancouver Archives)

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