Can we create a 20′ x 4′ historic district to protect the Ypsi-Arbor sign?

Well, it looks as though the auction for our beloved Ypsi-Arbor sign has now begun. The good news is, at least so far, no one has stepped forward to start the bidding…

The minimum bid, as you can see in this screen capture, is $3,000.


The folks at, though, are reporting that there is some interest. According to a story published today, New Center Consulting, the group running the auction, is claiming that producers of the television show “American Pickers” have said that they would pay $3,000. And, they’re claiming that, “a national sign museum” has offered $3,500.

As I’ve expressed on the site before, I’d like for the iconic landmark to stay right where it is. And I’m confident that we could raise on the order of $5,000 to make that happen. I think enough of us feel passionately about the sign, which has stood between our two communities since 1964, that the fundraising would be relatively easy. But buying the sign is just part of the equation. We’d also have to figure out a way to protect those few square feet that it now stands on. Would it be possible, I wonder, to have it designated a historic cultural artifact? Or, could we convince the Township to designate the State’s tiniest historic district?

The Washtenaw Avenue corridor is the most traveled thoroughfare in our County, and this is easily the most distinctive feature on it. In a sea of fast food chains and endless strip malls, it stands out, exuding character, and, at least symbolically, bringing our two cities together. As cities nationwide are descending into a homogeneous mess of lowest common denominator crap, I think it’s imperative for us to stand up and protect the things that make our community unique, and give us a sense of history and place. I don’t know how we can stop this sign from being sold, as the the majestic wheels of Capitalism are already in motion, but, if we don’t at least try, I think we’re pretty fucking pathetic.

This might seem like a silly thing to give a damn about, but I think we’ve got to draw the line somewhere. (I used to draw the line at our historic Peninsular Paper plant, which I thought would have made an incredible arts space, but it was torn down to make way for questionably constructed student apartments.)

And I’m all for a demonstration at the base of the sign, if folks are up for it. (I’m picturing people chained to the sign, while puppet shows go on and bands play.) Either we find a way to stop this auction, or we raise enough money to buy it ourselves. There’s no other option.

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  1. donna
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    you’d also have to figure out how to keep the power on, no?
    otherwise, it’d be a sad, dark sign at night.

  2. Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Yup, I was going to mention that. We need to figure out how to keep it lit. I also didn’t mention it, but I think it would be OK to give whomever purchases that parcel of land some flexibility with regard to where the sign ultimately resides. s long as it’s somewhere on that corner, I’d be happy.

  3. Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Here’s an idea… Maybe the sign takes coins. Maybe 25-cents gets you a half-hour.

  4. Tim Oskins
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    Where are our elected leaders on this?

  5. Mark
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    The city should buy the sign as well as the ground it sits on as part of a larger plan to incorporate everything between Hewitt and Golfside into the city.

  6. Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Typically, by the time something historic is in danger, it’s way to late to save/preserve it. Preservation requires a little bit of forethought. Creating a historic district or designation requires process, public hearings, and all that other good government stuff.

    That said, there is an option theoretically available. Washtenaw County does have its own Historic District Commission, which covers all the municipalities that don’t have their own (Cities of A2, Ypsi, Saline).

    Under the County’s preservation ordinance (like all such ordinances), the County Board of Commissioners may establish an emergency moratorium on pending work that “will cause irreparable harm to resources located within an established historic district or a proposed historic district”. I won’t claim to have scrutinized their ordinance carefully enough to say exactly at what point a district is considered “proposed”, but I expect it could be “proposed” by resolution of the BoC.

    That means the next step for this approach would be to call up friendly neighborhood County Commissioner (and enough friends across the County to hit all the Commissioners) to ask them to propose a historic district for the sign and put a moratorium on its modification or removal to allow time to go through the historic district study process. I don’t think there’s any way the County BoC would consider such a thing without the consent of the Ypsilanti Township Board, so people who are Township residents ought to talk to their Board members as well.

    I’m not wholly convinced this is the route to go — it is about the only method that would allow for preservation of the sign in place (rather than purchasing it and having the property owners telling you to get your sign off their land), but historic preservation standards (nationally) tend to frown on moving things around, so there would need to be some creativity in setting it up if you wanted to be able to move the sign aroudn the intersection. There would also need to be some zoning work done, as I expect the sign is currently non-conforming, and, of course, some kind of trust put in place and funded to keep the sign maintained, insured, lit. (Technically, if the sign were in a district, the property owner could be compelled to maintain it, but that doesn’t seem like the best relationship to set up for respectful preservation…)

  7. Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    I’ll pledge $20 to the cause.

    Maybe we should set up a kickstarter and get some californians to buy our sign for us. Worked for robocop.

  8. Edward
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    I bet we could do a Kickstarter campaign for $5k, and raise the money in a week. I’m not sure, however, what we’d do if the auction went beyond that. Maybe the owner would be willing to pull the auction if we offered $4 or $5k in cash right now. But, as others have suggested, that’s just part of the problem. Then we have to figure out a way to keep it where it is, and keep it lit. It would be cool if Ypsi Solar could power it solar energy. Has anyone contacted the people at the local history museum?

  9. dp in ypsi
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I’ll chip in too… as long as when we win it, the sign gets mounted on Mark’s home.

    Maybe we can get the Historical Society to set up a Causes page on Facebook so we can all contribute to a single fund, and raise awareness about an important local do-gooder organization. I’ll make a few calls.

  10. Kim
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    The Washtenaw corridor is soulless. It’s 5 miles of nothing. The only things that are unique along that entire stretch are this sign, the structures at the miniature place, that weird Icecapades drive-thru, and the budding Chinatown area. The rest of it could be anywhere in the United States. Yes, there are some good places, like Pacific Beach Burrito, and Sunshine Grocery, but they don’t stand out. It’s one long, continuous strip mall.

  11. Christine M
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I’m in for $100

  12. Steph
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    So, what’s the next step? Do we contact Ronnie Peterson? Or is he in jail right now?

  13. dp in ypsi
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    @Steph: the next step would be for someone to put up the cash and buy it. Then arrange a fund drive with the Ypsilanti Historical Society, or some other organization to purchase the sign from them at cost.

    It would be great if someone at YHS would start a Causes page on facebook where we could earmark small donations for the effort.

    It would also be great if Mark would let us mount it on the roof of his home. I’m sure we could probably get a variance to the zoning code to allow for this. Just think, it will be that much easier to find the Great Ypsilanti Backyard Bacon Glutton Cook-off if there is a giant neon sign on the roof.

  14. Mr. X
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    The sign is physically located in Commissioner Wes Prater’s district.

  15. Mr. X
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Here’s his contact information.

  16. pj
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    This better happen

    I don’t live in the area anymore but that sign is one of the very few noteworthy landmarks in the area. Also consider that some revenue could be raised by renting out messages on the sign (similar to the alger theater on the e side of detroit)

    However the problem probably isnt the purchase price but the cost of maintenance. It seems like every other time i drove down washtenaw it was either half dead or being worked on. Unfortunately keeping it operational and in good shape will require some money.

    If i had any money I’d be glad to donate some for the cause. The problem most likely will be the legal bs though

  17. Maria
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    I personally, have never liked that sign. …not to be too outspoken, but it’s kind of ugly. It too 60’s, and it’s not a problem that it goes away.
    To each his own, but there are better things to spend money on. Really.

  18. Presley Dent
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Maria, I can appreciate your aesthetic objections but, if I may, that’s very much the kind of objection that leads to loss of significant cultural artifacts: too 1980s, too 1960s, too 1940s, too 1920s, too 1880s…

    It’s an exceptional representation of its era, and one of the few remaining, intact, in location. Frankly, if it’s not worth spending money on this, now, it’d be hard to justify spending money on any preservation of any historic structure.

  19. Bob
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I just find it weird that nobody is suggesting saving the building or the business itself, just the sign. No one seems to care about the thing itself, just the kitschy sign that represents it. I said it before on a similar thread, I just hope the thing stays intact. It’s a beautiful piece and should remain intact, even if it’s at a Hooters in Vegas. Busting up the sign just to keep the Ypsi/Arbor part is lame.

  20. Posted April 9, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    @Mark: We have 20 days left, any word on whether or not we could raise the money and keep this thing safe ourselves? If we are going to launch it – we should launch soon :)

  21. T. Todd
    Posted October 24, 2015 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Why in the hell didn’t you do this?

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] [For the background, I’d suggest that you read our previous discussions on the matter: Part 1, Part 2.] The good news is, nothing’s been finalized yet. The bad news is, the highest bid is already […]

  2. […] by way of background, is how I framed the issue on the site at the time: …The Washtenaw Avenue corridor is the most traveled thoroughfare in […]

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