Saturday, September 22, 2012

Larry would have loved it

Two meaningful events were under way simultaneously on the square Friday morning. And as Ray Meyer pointed out, if our late friend Larry Clark --- honored when the courthouse gazebo was renamed "Larry J. Clark" in his memory --- had been looking on (assuming that he wasn't), he'd have been delighted to see a symbolic step in restoration of the Hotel Charitone being taken in the background.

So as the crowd was gathering for the renaming ceremony, workers were busy across the way installing the harness that would allow them to lower the landmark "Hotel Charitone" sign to the ground once its metal supports, driven deep into the hotel's walls, were cut.

Janet Clark, Larry's wife, was present to say a few words after Adam Bahr reminded those assembled that the gazebo had been a project with a special place in Larry's heart. He had been instrumental in conceiving the plan to build it, had worked with county supervisors and others to locate and plan it and, during construction, had patrolled the site daily to make sure everything was being done exactly right. Friday's ceremony was held on the site of gazebo's 2000 dedication/ribbon-cutting ceremony.

By the time the ceremony was over, construction workers had attached the harness to the sign and shortly thereafter moved one of two lifts used in removal process to the place where it needed to be and were ready to go.

This big corner sign, almost as much a landmark as the hotel itself, is the second of two similar signs that have identified the hotel. I think it dates from the 1950s, but can't be sure of that. The hotel's original signage was painted on flat boards, one on each side of the entrance corner. The first of the lighted signs projecting from the building's southwest corner dated from the hotel's first years, sometime between 1923 and the early 1930s. It was very similar to the current sign, but the newer version has more of a 1950s look.

Once the harness was in place Friday, the metal supports were cut and without so much as a jolt, the sign was free to be lowered carefully to the sidewalk and into the arms of a worker waiting to guide it.

The sign then was backed carefully out of the construction fence enclosure along the south side of the hotel and lowered to the street where it was possible to get a close-up look.

The neon tubing has shattered over the years, but the enameled facing of the sign was in remarkable condition. It was especially cool to be able to see the mark of the sign's maker near its base.

After a bit of rearranging and reharnessing, the sign was moved flat on its back now to the alley entrance east of the hotel, then down the alley to safe storage while it awaits restoration and the return to its traditional place on the square.

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