Boise & Garden City

‘Signs of Our Times’ project aims to save Boise’s historic neon and more

The historic Cub Tavern sign once hung outside what’s now Bar Gernika in Downtown Boise. Classic Sign did the paint job on the sign. Rocket Neon donated the neon work. The sign is one in Signs of Our Times’ collection.
The historic Cub Tavern sign once hung outside what’s now Bar Gernika in Downtown Boise. Classic Sign did the paint job on the sign. Rocket Neon donated the neon work. The sign is one in Signs of Our Times’ collection. Vangie Osborn

Boisean Vangie Osborn has championed lots of causes in this community, including working with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, the Boise City Arts Commission and the Idaho Humane Society. The former Peace Corps worker is now spending her days as a substitute teacher in the Boise School District and continuing to work on one of her greatest passions, the “Signs of Our Times” project.

Osborn, along with her friends and supporters, have worked for close to two decades collecting old Boise signs, raising money to refurbish them so they shine and glow like new, and looking for a permanent home where everyone can enjoy the retro charm of signs from The Cub Tavern, Royal Optical, the Fiesta Ballroom and many more.

Osborn will give a public talk about the project at noon on Tuesday, Dec. 8 at the Washington Group Plaza Central Auditorium, 720 E. Park Blvd. in Boise, as part of the Friends of the Historical Museum’s Brown Bag Lecture Series.

The Signs of Our Times collection now includes 20 signs, said Osborn, including a recent acquisition of the non-neon variety, the wooden sign from the Koffee Klatsch, a longtime coffeehouse in the BoDo neighborhood. The collection also includes the sign from Arne’s Beauty Parlor and Mercury Cleaners on Roosevelt Street. Most of the signs are in storage awaiting a permanent installation somewhere, said Osborn. She hopes part of the collection might find a home on an exterior wall of the Idaho State Historical Museum, which is currently undergoing a major renovation and expansion.

The project began years ago when Osborn found the Royal Optical sign, which featured a pair of 50s-style cat’s eye glasses, and another sign shaped like a giant coffee cup in an unoccupied building downtown. Her friend, the late artist Surel Mitchell, encouraged her to save the signs and bring them back to life. The project grew from there, said Osborn.

Osborn plans to start a fundraising campaign to raise money for more restoration work on the collection.

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