Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Old neon Goldmann’s sign travels to museum in Cincinnati
Considering that its purpose in life was to stay put for decades on the side of a department store, the old Goldmann’s sign really gets around.
In 2015 it headed west to North Dakota when the abandoned sign from the abandoned Milwaukee store was scooped up for $500 by a junk dealer who took it home to Minot.
Then, in March 2018, it came back to Milwaukee with the idea that it would be restored and returned in all its neon glory to Historic Mitchell Street.
That plan fell apart and the sign was on the move again, this time to the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati. It arrived there Tuesday.
“The sign needs an indoor life. It’s done its time outside and I would like to see it last longer. Every possible location and scenario in Milwaukee was considered, but it was just not meant to be. Plus, raising $20,000 on my own to refurbish and mount was a daunting task that could’ve taken years,” Adam Levin shared with fellow local history buffs on his Facebook group, Old Milwaukee.
That’s the price estimate that Levin received from two sign experts who examined the 26-foot local treasure in the backlot of a manufacturing facility in Big Bend where it was resting since last year.
Only $1,300 was raised online and Levin has refunded all the donations.
“My dream was that the Milwaukee Art Museum would take it. I tried. I got the email for the curator and they never got back to me. I just kind of gave up. I can’t force someone to take an 800pound sign,” Levin told me.
Another plan had the sign returning to Mitchell Street on a pedestal in a parking lot next to Witkowiak Funeral Home. Owner and former Milwaukee Ald. Jim Witkowiak is the person who drove a truck to North Dakota and retrieved the sign.
That spot is four blocks east of where Goldmann’s was in business for 111 years at 930 W. Historic Mitchell St. Known for its lunch counter, candy raisins and plus-sized clothing, the store closed in 2007.
The sign remained on the building for eight years after that, before being tossed out back. It’s rusty now and most of the neon tubes are broken or missing.
The American Sign Museum is receiving the sign as a donation, and it’s paying for the transportation and restoration costs.
Hannah Markisohn, assistant curator at the museum, said she is not able to say how long it will take to refurbish the sign, if both the front and back of the sign will be redone, and how it might be displayed at the museum.
“It will go into storage until we can figure out restoration costs and things of that nature. We need to figure out the
best way to preserve it and the budget for that,” she said.
The Goldmann’s sign was a local landmark, but it doesn’t have the colorful or playful appeal of other neon signs on display at the museum, including some from gas stations, bowling alleys, taverns and such.
“Adam kind of sold his case that the sign is really cool and has a great history. Porcelain signs of this size, I haven’t really seen any before,” Markisohn said.
The museum opened in 2005 and features signs from the pre-electric era of the 1800s up to the early 1980s in 20,000 square feet of display space. A neon shop is based at the museum.
Followers on Old Milwaukee hoped to see the sign stay in Milwaukee, but they thanked Levin for his efforts.
“Sad to see her go, but happy she’s going to a good home,” one posted.
“It’s a Milwaukee thing only we will ever understand! At least you saved it! Reminds me of shopping with my grandparents,” said another.
For Levin, it’s been a crazy few years. As recently as last week, a truck showed up to take away the sign but was 7 inches too short for the job.
But on Tuesday, the Goldmann’s beacon finally arrived at its forever home, or at least we can hope.
“Goodbye,” Levin posted, “farewell, amen!”