Cedar Rapids skyline sees return of 'Roosevelt' lighted sign

Owner Sherman Associates restores piece of city history

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Still overlooking the city is the iconic Hotel Roosevelt sign, except now with better lighting.

After a nearly three- month restoration, the Roosevelt sign’s old neon tubes have been replaced with light-emitting diodes. The letter faces have been refurbished, and new circuitry and power supplies have been installed.

The new sign now will light up the downtown skyline every night from sunset to sunrise — the first time the sign has been turned on in years.

Sitting nearly 25 feet atop the 12-story Roosevelt, the sign restoration was ordered by Sherman Associates, a commercial real estate developer based in Minneapolis, for about $40,000. The restoration was done by Munson Electric of Hiawatha.

Sherman Associates obtained the hotel in 2009 after it was damaged in the flood of 2008.

Converted into apartments in the 1970s, the Roosevelt now holds 96 apartments, a fitness center, a business center and a community room.

The hotel originally was designed by the Krenn & Dato architectural firm and has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

A sign has not always been perched on top of the Roosevelt roof, with an ever-changing history dating to the early 1930s.

Mark Stoffer Hunter, research historian for The History Center, said the Roosevelt did not have a sign atop it when built in 1927. In the 1930s, two sets of neon signs were added to the roof.

“At some point, the once facing the east was taken down,” Stoffer Hunter said. “They just kept the one up.”

These type of structures were common for the period, Stoffer Hunter said, especially for cities like Cedar Rapids that were largely built in the 1920s when there was a “huge building boom.”

It is not as common, however, for the signs to survive as long the Roosevelt’s has.

In the 1950s, the wording was reversed from “Hotel Roosevelt” to “Roosevelt Hotel.”

The sign changed again in the 1970s to read “Roosevelt Royal” after the hotel briefly closed after an employee strike. The wording on the sign then, Stoffer Hunter said, was in an effort to compete with other downtown hotels.

For the last 30 years, the sign has read simply, “Roosevelt.”

Stoffer Hunter doesn’t remember the last time he saw it lighted.

Valerie Doleman, director of marketing and communication with Sherman Associates, said the sign was not in working condition when Sherman acquired the building and that the aim of the renovation was to symbolize “Sherman’s efforts to bring new life to the building.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8531; alexandra.connor@thegazette.com

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