Preserving the past

Sep 072011
Authors: Jason Pohl

If you are near Coopersmith’s Pub in Old Town during the next several weeks, you will likely see scaffolding and workers climbing around an old and faded painting.

But it’s not just any crumbling piece of art, according to historians in the area.

 Art conservators will be using 21st century technology to preserve a painting of a Coca- Cola bottle from more than 50 years ago, and the public is invited to watch it in action. Free tours and explanations will be offered by the city and those involved in the project throughout the process.

The goal is to preserve history in the form of a sign created in 1958 that has become more than just a chipped and faded advertisement for a drink and deli.

 “This is one of the iconic symbols of Fort Collins and the downtown area,” said Ed Stoner, the president of Old Town Square Properties and owner of the building. “It is one of the identifiable fixtures of Old Town and the city.”

The project is expected to cost about $45,000 and will utilize numerous new preservation methods including efforts to allow the brick to breathe, adhere the paint to the brick and prevent further destruction. The project is being funded by a combination of money from the State Historical Fund as well as private donations from around the community.

In most other communities, these signs are just repainted – something those affiliated with the projects want to avoid.

“We are the pioneers of this treatment of a ghost sign,” said Carol Tunner, the grant and project manager. “We want it to remain a ghost sign, but we also want to protect, preserve and conserve it.”

Dubbed ghost signs by historians, these paintings were the first wave of the modern billboards, according to Tunner.

“These tell us about the past. They are historic advertisements to products no longer made,” she said, citing nearby cigar and buggy-whip ads.

The brick wall was painted by local artist Don Brown for $400 during a time when the 12-ounce Coke was big news around town. Brown gained statewide acclaim for his art at the time and created other works in the community including the Charco-Broiler steer, which is still visible on the east end of the city.

“These signs were everywhere there was an available wall. They were a major form of advertising back then,” Tunner said.

Even people who are not from Colorado recognize the importance of these old signs and classic architecture of the downtown district, most of which is on the National, State and Local Historical list.

“There are so many new buildings, but nothing compares to the old architecture,” said George Gerner, a visitor from Pittsburgh, Pa. He and his wife Dina were spending a drizzly Wednesday afternoon wandering around Old Town while considering a potential move to the area.

“We should save as much of this art and architecture as possible. It cannot be replaced.”

Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at

About the Wall

  • The building was originally constructed in 1904
  • It has served as a grocery store, deli and restaurant
  • 27 different layers of paint have existed on the wall
  • Sand from the mortar came from the nearby Poudre River

Free Tours

  • When: Sept. 13, 15, 17, 20, 22 and 24 at noon
  • Where: Meet near Coopersmith’s pub-side patio
  • Learn about: A deeper history of the sign and the process to protect it
  • Visit for more information
 Posted by at 4:31 pm

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