Neon Sign Maintenance a Lost Art
With the Capitol Theatre being one of Wheeling’s crown jewels, it’s not surprising that maintaining some of the elements of the downtown structure require rather unique craftsmanship.
As Tim McClellan, owner of McClellan Sign Company of Wheeling, replaced some of the curved neon lighting inside the “Capitol” lettering on the theater’s front marquee from the top of a ladder truck Monday, passing pedestrians and motorists alike couldn’t help but notice the ongoing overhead sign maintenance on the restored structure.
While the marquee also has elements of LED and incandescent lighting, it’s the area inside the “Capitol” lettering that maintains neon lights, according to McClellan, who said it is very rare for him to replace any kind of neon lighting, which he makes in his Wheeling shop.
“It’s straight four-foot tubing … and you heat it up in fires and bend it,” McClellan said, while talking about the production of tube bulbs. “You can hardly buy this stuff anymore because it’s gotten so pricey. Neon is a thing of the past. Today I did two neon jobs, and I haven’t done any neon jobs for about a year and a half probably.”
McClellan said the neon bulbs he was replacing on the theater marquee normally last about 20 years if installed properly. He said his company initially installed neon lights on the marquee nearly two decades ago.
He said while many signs in the area are still lit with fluorescent lights, energy saving LED lighting has become much more popular in recent years.
Frank O’Brien, executive director of the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it is extremely important to try and recreate everything with the Capitol Theatre as it was in its heyday. The Capitol Theatre opened on Thanksgiving Day 1928.
“The Capitol Theatre is so iconic and the craftsmanship involved with all aspects of the theatre require a special skill in many cases, specifically neon glass and tubing,” O’Brien said.
The theater was closed in the spring of 2007 after a list of fire code violations came to light following its annual safety inspection. The Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau purchased the theater in April of 2009 and entered into an operations agreement with the City of Wheeling’s Sports and Entertainment Authority to operate the facility.
A re-grand opening was held in September of 2009 following a lengthy renovation process.