The Lebowsky Center, Owosso, MI

The Lebowsky Center, home to the Owosso Community Players in Michigan, might be the envy of historic American theaters with its new, state-of-the-art facility that preserves the original look of its building. The story behind their innovative approach is a lesson for those seeking a historic look with a modern approach to marketing and energy efficiency.

When a huge portion of the building was lost to fire in 2007, only the front of the building and original marquee were spared. With many of the original Bakelite panels broken, the intricate design and operation of the marquee made the prospect of a total restoration difficult and potentially expensive.

Despite the building’s location within a designated historic district, and some initial reluctance to consider an LED sign, Carl Ludington, the electrician for the Owosso Community Players, was open to new solutions for their marquee restoration. As the theater rebuild progressed, Ludington contacted Mark Agnew with Agnew Graphics Signs and Promotions to learn about LED signs and see examples of them in the community. Agnew was able to demonstrate to the organization and the historic district that an LED sign retrofitted into the existing framework would mimic the look of the old marquee with a high degree of accuracy. He even developed specially designed content to blend the look of the new Watchfire signs seamlessly with the original curved marquee that remained on the front.

The quality of the retrofitted LED signs in the marquee was especially important. To mimic the original display it was necessary to find components that could accurately reflect the white background of the original Bakelite tiles. It is natural for LEDs to dim over time, but Watchfire’s high quality components and color calibration ensure that the white background of their content will remain true. Inferior components can dim unevenly, causing white content to appear pink. Ludington also mentioned the ease at which they could tailor the brightness of their sign to compensate for so much white on the display. “We feel the brightness is perfect now and will only increase the longevity of the sign,” he said.

Ludington programs content that varies from logos and photos related to upcoming shows, and lettering that copies the original marquee’s content – right down to a font that matches the old manually applied letter tiles. “We have a first rate display out front that maintains our historic look. Watchfire was not the cheapest sign out there, but we like that it was manufactured in America and had superior quality,” said Ludington. “Our Watchfire sign is so easy to operate. It’s an awesome addition to our theater and our community. We couldn’t be happier with our choice.”

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