The historic neon sign of the Balmoral Hotel will be ransacked by the City of Vancouver

The historic neon sign featured an elegant design and a clock

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

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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 neon heyday.

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

The four-story tall sign has been more or less left to the elements in recent years and looked weathered. The city disassembled it into three sections on June 26 and shipped it to Knight Signs in Delta.

“Several assessments were conducted to verify the condition of the sign before and after removal,” a statement from the city read. “These assessments have confirmed that it is not possible to save or restore the panel.”

Neon expert John Atkin strongly disagrees.

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

“The sign was up. Yes, the panel probably had a lot of trouble, but if you really wanted to save the panel, as they originally stated when buying the Balmoral, it is possible to do so.

“Because nothing is so bad. This may mean using metalwork as a model, it may mean taking parts of it to include in the thing. But nothing, nothing, is unrecoverable.

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

“There the panel was rusty and very corroded,” he said.

“But it was taken down and the sign used the existing sign as a design to recreate a new sign that was identical to the original. We reused some of the glass.

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“If you intend to conserve, restore and rebuild, then you can do that. If your intention is just to get rid of it and say (something) to justify your decision, then that’s what you’re doing too. Basically it’s BS.

The Balmoral sign had a neon clock at the bottom.
The Balmoral sign had a neon clock at the bottom. Photo by Jon Murray /PROVINCE

Vancouver City Councilor Pete Fry has a poster of the Balmoral sign in his kitchen. He was surprised at the decision to throw away such a unique piece of Vancouver’s cultural history.

“It feels pointless and lacks creativity – surely we can give it to someone (not City) to take/restore,” he said in an email. “Does anyone care?”

In fact, there are. David Ferguson of Low Tide Properties inquired about purchasing the sign from the City.

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

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Ferguson said Low Tide would still be interested in the sign if the city wanted to sell it rather than throw it away.

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

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

“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 symbolic of the building and the city is sensitive to retraumatization of former residents and their families, friends and community.”

The sign also symbolizes an imaginative era in commercial signage in Vancouver.

“It starts at the top and curves around a bit away from the building, goes into the building, then curls up and around the clock (bottom),” Atkin said.

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

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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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