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The bright neon glow of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) sign once again lights up the southwest corner of Walnut and 10th Streets in downtown Columbia. After 40 years of darkness, the restored sign was remounted and lit in late spring of this year. The sign marks the historic building that currently houses Stuart Insurance and the We Always Swing Jazz Series among several other local businesses.
John Bell, owner of Stuart Insurance and treasurer of the Columbia Odd Fellows, said the lodge had long considered refurbishing the sign but in the past the extra expense always shelved the idea. The organization commissioned Bee Seen Signs for the restoration, which was originally designed and installed by Davis & Hourigan Sign Company, in the early 1950s. Coincidentally, Bee Seen Signs purchased Davis & Hourigan in 1985. Tom Hourigan, son of the original IOOF sign designer, now serves as manager of Bee Seen Signs, and was delighted to learn of the effort to relight the downtown sign that often arouses local curiosity and questions.
When work started Hourigan found the sign in remarkably good condition with no chips to the porcelain enamel. The original transformer boxes--date stamped 1948-49--still worked and as Hourigan said, “they don’t make them like they used to.” After removing dirt and tar build-up he decided to use the originals to power the neon lights.
“The sign was in great shape,” Hourigan added. “There was enough old neon left to trace a pattern of the original lettering and to replicate the original colors of the sign. It mostly needed elbow grease to restore.”
The sign runs on a timer and is now lit from 6-10 daily. Sitting on the edge of the North Village Arts District, it adds a nostalgic flavor to a section of downtown Columbia that missed the neon glow of the IOOF letters since the late 1960s and promises to keep shining bright for decades to come.
The Restored IOOF Sign Ready to be Remounted to the Odd Fellows Building