As a 99 year old sign company, we appreciate the value of vintage and historic signs, buildings, and places. We also love seeing the movement over the last few decades to maintain the integrity of more and more buildings, while still finding new life and purpose for these spaces. We’ve been excited to be a partner to many developments which have taken old mills, auto shops, train depots, factories, etc. and turned them into exciting community spaces, restaurants, educational facilities, and more.

Prevent Sprawl

Las Vegas cityscape at night

Las Vegas, home to many incredible neon signs and lights, also made Thrillist’s 2017 list of “Worst Urban Sprawl Cities”

As the industrial revolution drove more Americans to factories in urban areas, cities began to expand without much planning or forethought. This led to what has been termed “urban sprawl”, where growth is haphazard and under-planned. While that has changed in some cities, with the growing importance of city planners and their work being recognized, there are still many municipal governments and communities that are fighting ongoing or existing sprawl.

Rehabilitating historic, unused buildings can help by offering more existing space for tenants of all varieties. Instead of developing a new office complex in the suburbs, companies can instead settle in downtown spaces where more young urban professionals prefer to live and work.

In fact, many of these same professionals may be finding their apartments are also restored historic buildings, as property owners have adapted old buildings into hip, living spaces, where unfinished walls are considered a feature and not a bug.

Keep Character and Charm

Vintage Corvette Chevrolet Neon Sign in Summerville, GA

Ortwein Sign fabricated the award winning neon Vintage Corvette Chevrolet sign in Summerville, GA to resemble signs of old.

One of the reasons we at Ortwein Sign make custom signs is because we feel each sign we fabricate speaks to our client’s character and brand better than a generic sign ever could. Similarly modern houses, office buildings, and other buildings that are cookie cutter may indeed be functional and serve a purpose; however, they do not often match the charm and vibe of historic buildings that are often already present in small and large towns alike.

In Chattanooga, we’ve had a real focus on community and municipal driven revitalization, especially since the 1970s when Chattanooga was declared “the most polluted city in America” by Walter Cronkite. In that time Chattanooga was an industrial city with factories all around. Now we’re more of a service town, as a tourist destination, and many of the old factories have long shut down. Instead of demolishing these buildings however, our city’s taken to repurposing them for new uses. Similarly the Chattanooga Choo Choo, once a depot for Chattanooga’s train network, and later a bustling hotel, has been modified to be as much as an event space and restaurant hub. This has allowed the grandeur of the building itself to remain, while finding new reasons to bring Chattanoogans and visitors from afar into its historic halls.

Maintains Valued Skills and Trades

Vintage Corvette Chevrolet Neon Sign in Summerville, GA

After the fire destroyed much of Notre Dame’s cathedral, the French National Assembly made the decision to use historic techniques to match as closely as possible the original fabrication techniques. According to, this has now lead to teachable opportunities for next generation’s skilled laborers.

Though the love of neon signs (and faux-neon signage) is as strong as ever, the number of neon tube benders has significantly diminished. We are proud to have one of the few remaining neon benders certainly in our area and perhaps beyond to even our state and region. As such, we’ve been asked to work on specific sign restorations that require skills akin to those that were used when tradesmen and women initially fabricated the signs decades ago.

Neon bending isn’t the only skill though that is preserved when renovating and restoring historic buildings. There are many skills and trades that come to bear when preserving historic properties, and this helps not only provide important jobs but it also helps teach newer generations new skills.

Increase Investment in Communities

Panorama of PIE Center in Cleveland, TN

When citizens and local governments come together to save historic buildings, they are not only preserving a piece of history but they are also adding economic value to the property and the community it’s a part of. Cities large and small have capitalized on this opportunity to develop destination locales for tourists, businesses, and more.

In Cleveland, TN, local municipalities, business leaders, and community organizers, came together to salvage an abandoned industrial factory to transform the space into the PIE Innovation Center for Bradley and Polk County Schools. PIE Center, as it is known colloquially, will be a home to a variety of training spaces to help the next generation of tradesmen and women learn essential skills and trades.

According to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, the cost for the vocational school itself is $33 million, which has gone to local businesses, contractors, and others to develop the property. Long term the benefits will go exponentially beyond this initial investment as future leaders learn and grow at PIE Center and additional businesses find tenant space at the center.

Learn about how Ortwein Sign fabricated signage to help keep the character of PIE Center’s historic, industrial facility alive with each sign.