American Sign Museum sets opening date for expanded space

The American Sign Museum is set to open a new wing on July 13 following the completion of a multiyear expansion effort. The updated Camp Washington facility will offer roughly 20,000 square feet of additional space for showcasing all sorts of larger-than-life marketing displays and neon-infused Americana.

Since its opening in 2012, the museum has experienced tremendous growth. Housed in the century-old Oesterlein Machine Company-Fashion Frocks Inc. building, founder Tod Swormstedt decided to further invest in the facility by renovating an unfinished portion of the space. 

As a result of the $5.4 million renovation, ASM has doubled in size, meaning there’s added room for new signs as well as additional programs and more special events.

The museum will close the week of July 8 to give staff time to prepare for the opening of its new space.

“With the expansion, we can further the work we do to promote the historic contributions of the sign industry in American culture,” Swormstedt said. “We’re looking forward to expanding our education programs, welcoming more events and increasing our outreach to the community.”

More room for signs to shine

The expansion of ASM took place in three phases, beginning in 2022. Phase I included the construction of staff offices, a conference room, a collections area, and a library and resource center. Phase II extended ASM’s “Main Street” exhibition into the new space, also adding a multi-use classroom and flex-space to support programming, a catering kitchen and a storage area.

ASM is currently hosting its Jazz in the Camp program every Wednesday through June 26.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an ASM site without some impressive new signs. Phase III of the project involved receiving and installing several pieces throughout the new wing, including some never-before-seen works.

  • Ioka Theater marquee: The Ioka Theater, a landmark in Exeter, N.H., opened in 1915. The only marquee in the ASM collection, the sign will hang over the entrance to a new theater in the museum that will show videos and presentations about the collection as well as host small events and meetings.
  • The Ward’s Butter Bread sign: During demolition of a Chicago building, the original façade – hidden for more than 70 years – featuring three hand-painted advertisements was discovered. The Ward’s Butter Bread sign was found to be the work of Jack Briggs, founder of the Beverly Sign Company which inspired the sign industry in the 1950s and ‘60s.
  • Johnny’s Big Red Grill: The tallest piece in the new wing is a 21.5-foot sign from a watering hole frequented by Cornell University students in Ithaca, N.Y. since 1919.
  • G & J Tire: This piece from Buffalo, N.Y. is from 1927, making it the oldest sign in the new wing.

Additionally, ASM invited 36 sign makers from across the United States and Canada to create the hand-painted signs in the expanded “Main Street” area.

Platte Architecture + Design led design work for the expansion.

“After more than two years of planning and construction, we’re excited to welcome visitors to a bigger and better ‘Main Street,’” said Director David Dupee, who joined ASM in late April. “With the expanded space, visitors can experience more signs – ranging from hand-painted shop windows to a classic theater marquee – and enjoy a place devoted to learning, inspiration and exploration.”

A museum unlike any other

The American Sign Museum promotes sign preservation and restoration by displaying a century of signage. The permanent collection contains more than 4,000 objects, including more than 800 signs. It also features an abundance of photographs, artworks, ephemera and other sign-related artifacts such as tools, equipment and supply materials.

To assist with Swormstedt’s long-standing goal to expand ASM’s community impact, the museum successfully completed a $5.4 million “Campaign for the American Sign Museum” to support the expansion. Financial support came from the city of Cincinnati, the Foundation for the Advancement of the Sign Industry, Gemini Sign Products, The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr. Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, the state of Ohio, and numerous donors from across the country.

“Along with being incredibly unique, ASM’s collection offers the chance to learn more about a part of our culture that often hides in plain sight,” said Mike Mattingly, ASM’s board chair. “The new area gives us additional space and more opportunities to engage schools, community groups, families and learners of all ages to create meaningful and memorable experiences.”

American Sign Museum

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