By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back, and Forth: Signs offer glimpses into past

Profiled by reporter Starla Pointer this week is a local bank’s new sign that kind of works history in reverse. Add it to the gallery of community signs and plaques that are either decades old or relics that put decades-past history into perspective.

“There is music to the past/sweet tones of perfect octaves,” wrote the poet Robert Kinsley. Old signs like the one at Adams and Third streets sound the tones of the past, if we just listen to them, whether they mark what is in place now or what used to be. What was there before adds depth and interest to what is there now.

The three-foot wide marble slab at First Federal reads “WOW McMinnville 128.” The sign reflects the bank’s sense of history, as the insurance company Woodmen of the World once had a headquarters on the same lot.

Perhaps a small explanatory plaque could accompany it. The acronym is, frankly, not universally known, and the 128, denoting the Woodmen of the World camp number, is even more obscure.

Other signs reflect changes long set in place.

The Bierly Brewing tasting room sign remains on Northeast Baker, about six months since the brewery’s tasting room moved downtown. A year’s grace period is probably about right, but elsewhere on Northeast Baker, a Vortex sign still stands eight years after the record store’s relocation.

In contrast, the 1929 Huberd Shoe Grease Co. sign, gracing the Lafayette Avenue side of a building transformed into Mac Market in 2019, has earned a place in history.

Also historically relevant is the Cline Chevrolet/Associated Gasoline mural painted on the brick facade of Third Street’s DeBennette Building, a recreation of 18th- and 19th-century advertising. It appears to be the only prominent brick mural advertisement downtown today, underscored by its inclusion in the 2018 Art Walk brochure produced by Visit McMinnville.

With a bit more searching, however, I did locate a classic brick ghost mural while exploring the alley between Evans and Davis. It lies in the shadow of the old Elks Temple, now Creekside Community Church.

A few steps off Evans, 15 to 20 feet up, are the faint and nearly illegible remnants of an old Bull Durham Tobacco sign. It is barely readable, thanks to its condition, its neck-craning height and the narrow width of the alley — only about seven feet.

The Elks building was constructed in 1938. I’m guessing its facade afforded a full view of the Durham sign at the time.

Creekside is the guardian of another remnant of history as well. At the base of its inherited flagpole, a plaque reads, “Donated by Elkettes, 1975-76.”

Creekside’s wooden sign normally obscures the ground-level plaque, but thanks to a mishap last week, it currently enjoys greater visibility.

Looking down can be as revealing as looking up.

Sidewalks in McMinnville, Yamhill and other localities are stamped or imbedded with many reminders of the past.

At the entry of the former Deluxe Tavern, now the HiFi Wine Bar, the sidewalk is branded, “Commercial Hotel/CW Whitlock Prop.” That serves as a reminder that many buildings have third, fourth or more lives.

Some concrete contractors’ name stamps are still visible downtown. They include “JP Price 1912” and “Miller and Keen.”

Linfield University has preserved the plaque with the original name — Northup Library — on the refurbished building now housing T.J. Day Hall. Another well-preserved plaque identifies the old sycamore to the north of Pioneer Hall as the “1885 Class Tree.”

In a class by itself is  Dave’s Auto Service at Seventh and Northeast Adams, still graced by a sign proclaiming, “Shell — Service is Our Business.”

Dave Williams started operating a Shell station there 48 years ago, but shut down the pumps and removed the tanks 32 years ago. Since then, service has, in fact, been his only business.

What’s more, Dave’s is now located on a one-way couplet, with both lanes of traffic heading south. That would normally dictate north-facing signs only. At Dave’s, however, you find both north- and south-facing signs — a quirky exception.

A long-defunct “Major Muffler” franchise sign occupies the south-facing side of the main Dave’s Auto sign. And on the lower south face, if you stop to look, you will find more relics of bygone times — old  “Shell Regular” and “Shell Unleaded” signs.

ontact Kirby Neumann-Rea at kirby@newsregister.com or 503-687-1291.

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