150 Boise Icons: AAA Sign Co.

February 21, 2013 

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Did you know? You can learn more about Justinian Morton, his work and his aesthetic through “In My Time,” a short film by Marie Mortensen. See it at vimeo.com/29861858.

ANNA WEBB — awebb@idahostatesman.com

Paul Ashley opened the AAA Sign Co. with his brother, Art, in Boise's Hyde Park in 1944. Their father was a sign maker, too, said current proprietor Justinian Morton.

Before the Ashleys opened their business in the distinctive clapboard structure at 1401 N. 12th St., a block removed from busy 13th Street, it was a tinsmith's shop.

The building still has its original roof - sheet iron stamped with fish scale shingles. Its provenance is impressive: It came from the original territorial Capitol building that stood on the present-day Capitol Mall, said Morton.

In Boise's early days, local sign makers like the Hopffgartens produced fancy script and artistic pieces, including murals at the Shriners' Temple.

The Ashleys represented a "modern wave" of signage, said Morton.

Their style, still visible around town at Riebe's Shoe Shop in Hyde Park and elsewhere, was simple and sleek. Paul Ashley drew the original Kuna Caveman mascot, and painted some of the signs at Bogus Basin.

Boise native Morton practices old-school sign making, though he's just 44. He has been operating the shop and restoring it for two years.

It still contains all of Ashley's flat file drawers, his presentation drawings and a photo archive of his work. It's like "a museum of sign craft," said Morton, "a document of the city, preserved in amber."

When Morton was repainting the shop's exterior, hundreds of people stopped by, "outraged that I was painting over the signs." Until they learned he was making them look as good as they did circa World War II.

"This place is as iconic as anything in Boise can be," he said.

Even as the city is changing, places such as AAA make it unique, said Morton.

"This is something we have that is specific to Boise," he said.

He said he feels a kinship with Paul Ashley, who died some years ago but whose name still adorns the front of the shop.

The two have the same birthday: Jan. 11, more than 40 years apart.

When Morton came on board as a partner at the now-closed Acme Vintage Clothing shop in Boise decades ago, Paul Ashley made the sign. It was his last as a professional.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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