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Employees of Wagner Electric Sign Co. inspected the Little Art marquee on a rainy Wednesday last week in preparation for the marquee’s upcoming redesign. (Photo by Lauren "Chuck" Shows)

The Little Art Theatre to redesign its marquee

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Local residents trying to keep out of the persistent drizzle Wednesday, May 15, may have missed signs of a new development coming soon at the Little Art Theatre.

That morning, representatives from Elyria, Ohio, based Wagner Electric Sign Co. were stationed in front of the 94-year-old local theater to inspect its marquee — the first step in its redesign.

As the News previously reported last November, the Little Art received a $100,000 grant from independent media server and streaming company Plex as part of the company’s “Theater of Dreams” initiative.

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Little Art representatives told the News last fall that a portion of the funds from the grant would go toward a redesign of the theater’s marquee, using the theater’s past art-deco-style marquee as inspiration.

The News spoke last week with Eric Larsen, a designer for Wagner Electric Sign Co. He said the company designs and fabricates a range of types of electric signs — regionally, the company’s work can be seen at the Roberts Centre in Wilmington. However, the company specializes in marquee design, with Ohio projects including the historic Sidney Theatre and the Avalon Theatre in Marysville, as well as projects in Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana, Georgia, New York and California.

In fact, Larsen said, the Little Art’s marquee will constitute his 52nd such project.

“I’ve been around the block,” he said, noting that he designed his first marquee in 2008 under the banner of his own company, and that he has worked for Wagner since 2017, designing all of their marquees. Since Larsen has been with the company, Wagner has won several design and fabrication awards, including first place in the 2020 International Sign of the Times competition for Larsen’s design of the marquee for the Lexington Opera House in Lexington, Kentucky.

“I’m the only guy I know on the planet that does [marquee design] full time,” he added.

Larsen went on to explain that Wagner employees were undertaking their initial survey of the Little Art marquee that morning, obtaining measurements and assessing the current state of the marquee, to help inform its new design. He said the theater’s board of directors had supplied him with photos of the Little Art’s original art deco marquee as inspiration, but had also indicated a desire to incorporate elements of the auditorium’s 1940s-era houselights in the design.

“So now, what I’ll do is brainstorm and start putting all that stuff together, then make a rendering and send it off [to the board],” Larsen said. “I’d say within four to six weeks we’ll have a final idea of what [the new marquee] is going to look like.”

Larsen added that a return to vintage designs is increasingly common for historic theaters across the country. Citing a study undertaken by The League of Historic American Theaters, of which he is a member, Larsen said communities have communicated that they are often drawn to theater updates that include vintage designs not only because of their attractive lines and angles, but also the nostalgia with which they are associated.

“People want that old feel back from when they were kids — and they want their kids to experience what they experienced, too,” Larsen said.

Look to the News for future updates on the marquee’s redesign and installation as the process unfolds.


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