ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The iconic giant red number one atop the First National Bank Building has gone dark until further notice, as the building's new owners explore their options for repairing it.
Since the 1930s the sign has been a nighttime beacon visible as far as 70 miles away on a clear night. Day or night it's one of the most recognizable features of the St. Paul skyline.
"It's as iconic a landmark in St Paul as the dome of the Cathedral or the State Capitol," Jeff Bartlett, a lighting designer visiting Rice Park Sunday, told KARE.
"I just think in general, as people, we tend not so preserve iconic landmarks."
The sign is 50 feet tall and features 4,000 linear feet of red neon glass tubing. It caps the west tower of the 1931 First National Bank Building, which, at 500 feet in height, was the Capital City's tallest building for 50 years after it was built.
The lights were shut down in 1973 as a result of the national energy crisis and didn't reopen until 1983 after a significant renovation project.
Scott Goltz of Madison Equities, the company that bought the building in November, said the sign had been damaged by winds and lost some of its lights. He said that Madison Equities is exploring options, including revamping the sign with LED lighting.
Bartlett says he agrees with the idea of upgrading the technology.
"I would sure advocate replacing with LED's. It’s more energy efficient, it’s going to last longer," Bartlett said.
The historic Pillsbury's Best Flour sign on the Minneapolis riverfront recently was updated with LED lighting, after going dark for five years.
"We don’t have a ton of iconic things in the Twin Cities, so it doesn’t hurt to kind of keep some stuff that looks good on a postcard," Steve Goers of Falcon Heights, who was visiting the Rice Park area of St. Paul, told KARE.
He also said he understood some restoration projects are too costly.
"If it’s completely cost prohibitive, I’m not for saving something unnecessarily," he said. "But if it’s one of those where someone wants to pay a few thousand dollars to actually make it happen, to keep that lit, I’m all for it."