Burnaby city hall to buy Eagle neon sign

Burnaby council has approved buying the neon eagle sign from the former Eagle Motors car dealership on Hastings Street, seen in this photo circa 1980. - Courtesy City of Burnaby Archives Photo No. 502-1547
Burnaby council has approved buying the neon eagle sign from the former Eagle Motors car dealership on Hastings Street, seen in this photo circa 1980.
— image credit: Courtesy City of Burnaby Archives Photo No. 502-1547

The Heights neighbourhood could one day see the return of another neon landmark after Burnaby council approved the purchase Monday of the sign from the former Eagle Motors car dealership.

City hall will spend up to $3,700 in gaming funds to buy the sign from a private collector, who approached the city about the sale. The collector is in the process of selling off vintage neon signs bought and salvaged from Lower Mainland businesses over the years, said a city staff report.

The Burnaby Eagle sign was created around 1950 for Eagle Motors Limited at 4161 E. Hastings St. (now known as Carleton Square) owned by well-known Burnaby businessman Frank McCracken.

The dealership was the largest Ford retailer in the province while it operated.

When the company built a new showroom building on the site, it commissioned Neon Products of Vancouver to build a large double-sided sign featuring its logo of a classic bald eagle in flight in blue, white and gold neon tubing.

As the report said, the sign "shared the night sky with other nearby classic neon signs of the era including the Swinging Girl sign of the Helen's Children's Wear store."

Eagle Motors closed in 1985 during the recession of the 1980s and vandalism on the site led to damage to the leased sign's neon tubing before it was reclaimed by its owner, Neon Products Ltd.

Unlike many other neon signs of the era that were scrapped by sign companies, this one was obtained by the local collector who has preserved and protected it in an indoor storage facility for more than 25 years.

The sheet metal and structure of the sign is in "excellent" condition and still has most of the original painted image, the report said. Any future conservation project would require restoration of its metal, paint and neon components.

The city purchase and restoration of the Swinging Girl sign and its return to Hastings Street has "provided significant unique branding and identity to the Heights shopping district," the report said. "The restoration of the Burnaby Eagle would further contribute to this community vision."

The cost of the Swinging Girl project was about $25,000. Cost estimates on any future work on the Eagle sign will require detailed study.

In the meantime, city hall is buying the sign. The $3,700 approved includes the Eagle sign, its support frame and cart, the cost of moving it, and another smaller Burnaby neon sign from the M&B Grocery Store— formerly located at 6949 Royal Oak Ave., which will be added to the Burnaby Village Museum collection.

"Since we already have the Swinging Girl in the Heights area, we thought it would be a great opportunity to bring back the Eagle, which is also one of our symbols for the city, back to the Heights area," said Coun. Colleen Jordan, chair of the city's community heritage commission, at Monday's council meeting.

"So we'll first of all purchase it, then we'll have to figure out and work with Heights Merchants [Association] about where we might locate it in the area and how it might be used in the future."

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