Save the cornucopia!!

Kroger announced earlier this week they would be closing the Scott’s store at 5300 Decatur Road next month.  While there will be no jobs lost, the City may end up saying goodbye to one it’s most iconic signs.  For some background on the sign and original store opening, visit Child of the Fort and two posts, here and here.  Kristina Frazier-Henry of Child of the Fort and I have taken on the crusade of saving this part of our heritage.

Angie Quinn, Executive Director of ARCH, sent me the following official ARCH response via email:

Since the Eavey’s grocery store opening on July, 31, 1956, the Eavey/Scotts Cornucopia sign has been a beloved and familiar landmark on Fort Wayne’s south side. Although it is not the original sign—the sign and lighting were completely replaced in 1992, but the support structure is original—the sign is a significant local landmark. As one of the last of the grand “spectacular” signs of the 1950s, the cornucopia stands 70 feet tall, and formerly was made of porcelain coated steel, with neon lights outlining each fruit and vegetable. In 1992, the sign was replaced with a new metal sign, which did not include new neon outlining the produce. As a community landmark, however, the changes are almost imperceptible, and the sign is every bit as loved now as it was loved in 1992.

However, the removal of the original materials may make preservation efforts difficult. Most funding sources for historic preservation projects require that the building/site/structure be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We’re in the process now of getting a determination of whether the sign is eligible, since the sign materials are not original, and are not yet 50 years old—the usual criteria for inclusion on the register.

We’ve also begun investigating whether the sign could be protected through the Fort Wayne Local Historic Preservation Ordinance, which allows property owners to have a special designation—much like a special zoning—that will require that the city’s Historic Preservation Commission review all visible changes to the exterior of a protected resource. As a sign, all of the cornucopia would be subject to review. The main problems with this avenue are that, 1) the owner needs to initiate the designation; and 2) the ordinance marks a specific piece of real estate, and not the historic resource itself. So, in this case, it would involve making the entire Scotts parcel a local historic district. Unfortunately, the store itself has been remoddled so many times it is not architecturally significant at all.

IF the owner would donate the sign, and IF a location for the sign were located, and IF funds were found to pay for its removal and replacement, then it is possible to have the sign protected. As a piece of public art [which it most definitely is] it might then be eligible for Local Historic District protection. Otherwise, we will need to hope that the next owner of the store chooses to keep the sign, as Eavey’s, Scotts, Super Value, and Kroger did while running their grocery store operations in the building.

One other option to consider, should the above fail, is donating the sign to one of the national sign museums (there’s one in Cincinnati) or to a local entity like NATMUS in Auburn, which has collected other local retail signs of the 1950s (though I do not think they have the space).

The ARCH Preservation Committee will discuss the sign, and may propose further action at its meeting later this month. I’ll be happy to keep you up to date, and I would be happy to speak to a group of concerned citizens about the sign, if there is interest.

On a personal note: as a child of the south side, myself, the cornucopia has been a most important landmark my entire life. I was in the marching band at Bishop Luers (when they still had one)from 1978-1982, and every practice was timed to the big neon clock on the west side of the store, easily seen from Luer’s football field across the highway. The clock is gone now, too.

So, what do you think?  


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Let’s hear the ideas might you have to save the sign, submit your ideas via the comment section below.

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  1. The sign is 17 years old. If that’s historic, most of Fort Wayne is historic. If we get too caught up with preservation, that would put a severe crimp on new development on the south side of Fort Wayne. If you can find a new home for the sign or the new owner wants to keep the sign, great! If not, that’s progress for you.

  2. The exterior of the sign was redone in 1993. The structure of the sign – which is part of the main foundation of the store – is 50 + years old.

    The more I think about it – the more concerned I am about the entire location. It has the earmarks of being Southtown, the sequel. A major building on the South Side will be vacant soon and there has been absolutely no comment from city officials. Kroger will be hardpressed to find anyone to take on that building – it would have to be another huge entity like a Target, Walmart, or Marsh. If you look at the surrounding smaller streets that lead into the area, they are all in need of some repair.

    • There was talk in this past Tuesday’s City Council meeting about “plug-n-play” call centers. There is apparently a need for something like this in Fort Wayne. It was mentioned that empty big box retail buildings are perfect for this. Of course, there are already three or four buildings that have been empty in Fort Wayne, so don’t know if that would be a possibility. The problem is, it’s a huge risk to convert a building over for this type of use which may or may not occur.

  3. The Marsh up north didn’t work out. I had a friend talk to them about running athletic events in there while they find a new tenant but it works better for them to let it be vacant. With “Knockouts” being knocked out it looks like all you’ll see in that little mall is Cardinal Fitness and the Barber Shop who both seem to be making it all right.

  4. Stephen – No, – A non-local entity buys a local organization, decides it’s home is “not good enough” for them and proceeds to replace it. Kroger/Scotts and Hardball/Wizards – sure looks like apples and apples to me. Only differences are the value: Memorial Stadium – $12 million vs. Cornacopia – $7500 and who owns it: Allen County vs. Kroger Company.

    • Then by your reasoning, John, your church should have been there as well, and shouldn’t now be taking up the cause of the GE parking lots or whatever the project is you mentioned to me months ago.

      Whatever, whichever direction you wish to manipulate this is fine, but no more on this comment line.

      Let me remind everyone of the question asked – “Let’s hear the ideas might you have to save the sign…” Any further comments off this topic will not be published.

  5. I am not sure where they are planning to build new buildings and/or expand old ones, but perhaps, the sign can be moved to a new Kroger/Scotts building. I would love to keep it in the south part of the city, but if it comes down to it I hope I just stays in Fort Wayne.

    • That was my first thoughts as well, however, and I don’t have any hard facts to back this up, I believe most Kroger/Scott’s stores are not company owned properties. This would mean little or no long-term protection/security for the sign. I appreciate it. And it might be something to mention next time we talk with our Kroger contact – to see if they do have any company-owned properties it could be relocated to.

      I sent you an email, Josh. Did you receive it? Thanks!

  6. I own three acres just outside city limits and often thought it would be cool to house some of the old signs and deteriorating parts of local history there. I work about a block from the old Humpty Dumpty sign on Fairfield, and would love to restore it and have it at home. Actually, just seeing it restored and kept anywhere would be awesome. I think it would be the best idea to have someone donate their property, or have a group get together to buy a piece of property to house these parts of our history. I would be willing to help any way I could.

  7. Yeah, that would be great. My three acres is mostly wooded and would primarily serve as a temporary solution to the problem if anything. I realize the cornucopia is very large and probably not suited to a residential plot. It just seems like right now, there may be an abundance of great deals on open commercial property (perfect for a drive through sign museum, perhaps). However, finding investors may not be as easy. School teacher here, so not an excessive amount of income personally. Again, would do anything I could for the cause. It’s a shame to see so much of our history disappear so recently.


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