Good work, Township! You now look like every other chain-glutted strip mall wasteland in America.


I try not to rant too much here. Believe it or not, I restrain myself for the most part. I try, as best as I can, to limit my posts to subjects where I believe I have positive, constructive things to add. That’s not so much the case tonight, though. There’s nothing positive left to be done. At this point, it’s all about venting. And I apologize in advance.

Let me start out by saying that, in my opinion, the strip of Washtenaw Avenue between Ypsi and Ann Arbor had two relatively unique things going for it. It had a bunch of former fast food franchises that had been taken over by local “ethnic” restaurants (from the Thai place that used to be a Long John Silvers, to the Middle Eastern place that used to be a Dunkin’ Donuts), and it had the Ypsi-Arbor Bowl sign that, up until yesterday, had been standing at the intersection of Washtenaw and Golfside since 1964.

The sign, however, was cut down with blowtorches yesterday, and hauled off. By now, it’s probably half way to its new home in South Dakota, where the owners of a sign museum had bid $3,250 in an online auction.

I’m pissed at myself for not having tried harder to save it. I did a bit, but it wasn’t enough, and I know that it will eat at me every time I drive by the spot where the iconic sign once stood, for the rest of my life. As angry as I am at myself, though, I’m a lot more angry at the elected leaders in the Township, who essentially brushed off our efforts to save this unique piece of Washtenaw County history.

Here, 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 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’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?…

I don’t want to rehash all of the details, but we made some significant progress. I had a few volunteers lined up to launch a Kickstarter campaign, and I had a bunch of people write in to tell me that, if we did it, they’d give money. Given the positive feedback I’d been getting, I thought that a $5,000 campaign would have been easily doable. But, that was only part of the problem. While I was convinced that we could buy the sign, I didn’t have an idea as to how we’d protect and preserve it afterward. Fortunately, a friend with considerable knowledge of public planning came forward with local legislation that he thought made the case for its protection, and, following his advice, I took the matter to Washtenaw County Commissioner Wes Prater.

And that’s where things slowed down to a stop. Prater told me that he couldn’t seek historic district protection for the sign unless the owner of the property asked him to do so… which, by the way, simply isn’t true. If it were, Ypsi’s historic Starkweather House would have been bulldozed long ago. The truth is, under the County’s preservation ordinance, 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.” But, Prater, the County Commissioner elected to represent that particular part of the County, did not want to get involved.

And, without anyone in County leadership willing to protect the sign where it stood once we’d purchased it, that’s where things stopped. I encouraged people to write to Prater, asking him to reconsider, but I didn’t keep working at it. In retrospect, I should waged a full-scale attack, holding a press conference at the sign, and issuing a series of videos of people talking about what the sign signified to them. I could have made it a much harder issue for people in power to ignore, but I made the decision not to devote my life to the cause. And, now, when I drive by and see the gaping hole in the sky where our big “Ypsi-Arbor” sign is supposed to be, it pisses me off. And I suspect that it always will.

Like I said at the beginning of the post, there’s not much to be done about it now. What’s done is done. (I suppose we could try to snatch it off the bed of the semi with helicopters, but that sounds a little too ambitious.) I just needed to vent. Thanks for humoring me.

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  1. Tommy
    Posted June 1, 2011 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    with more posts like this one, Mark, you are likelt to slip to the third place blog. Yes, it’s iconic. The county has much more to worry about right now.

  2. Edward
    Posted June 1, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Sure, there are more important things. There always will be. Protecting the unique attributes of a community will never be as important as saving schools, creating jobs, and any number of other things, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not important. Protecting what makes out community unique is worth fighting for.

  3. notoneofthecoolkids
    Posted June 1, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    I understand your passion about the sign. I feel the same way whenever I see a historic homes in Ypsilanti ripped apart to make ugly apartments. At least the sign will survive, even if it is outside of the city and state.

  4. Mr. X
    Posted June 1, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    It sucks when people don’t fight to preserve what makes their communities unique. Without history, and these quirky little artifacts like the Ypsi Arbor Bowl sign, everyplace is the same. Right now, people enjoy the consistency and ubiquity of Starbucks, but it won’t last forever. Sooner or later people will begin to long for authenticity.

  5. Posted June 1, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    At least part of the reason for Mr. Prater’s reluctance to intervene may come from his own history as the former Ypsilanti Twp. Supervisor during the very period of time in which much of this auto-centric disposable architecture was originally built!

  6. Mr. X
    Posted June 1, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I agree about the “auto-centric disposable architecture”, but I wouldn’t go so far as to lump the Ypsi-Arbor sign in with all the other garbage. There was something special about that sign. Maybe now we’ll get a Hooters, though.

  7. Posted June 1, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I like that they left the support structure in place, just to rub in the fact that there used to be a sign there. You can see it in the photo — the three white posts sticking up just over the police car’s trunk.

    We should start a campaign to designate the Historic Ypsi-Arbor Rusty Fork Sign Support Amputation, to keep it there in memorial.

  8. Maria
    Posted June 1, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t beat yourself up about that sign…It sounds like it found a home…
    So what else is worth saving?

  9. Ypsiosaurus Wrecks
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    I was driving next to the Google Maps – “street view” car yesterday along Washtenaw. The car was going West – starting at EMU. It would have been nice if it could have captured the sign for the posterity…

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