Restoration of sign nearing completion

Work on the marquee of the Sliman Theater is ongoing, with cranes operated by workers from GibKo Signs of Bunkie helping with the heavy lifting this week. The old Evangeline Theater is one of the earliest Louisiana examples of Art Deco architecture using neon signs.

The feeling of excitement and anticipation that followed the restoration of the Evangeline Theater sign on Main Street earlier this year is in the air again.

That’s because travelers along Main Street over the last week can’t help but notice the two big crane trucks set up in front of the historic Sliman Theater as the next phase of the façade’s restoration — the rebuilding of the marquee portion of the Art Deco neon signage — draws closer to completion.

“I really think the work will be done soon,” New Iberia Mayor Freddie DeCourt said.

Workers from GibKo Signs of Bunkie began the preparatory work earlier this month, removing the cracked plastic letterboard and existing neon. Workers took their measurements back to the shop in Bunkie and crafted new neon tubes and signage. This week, the metal housing has received its first coat of paint and will get new pinstripes soon.

According to a worker on the project, the parts are already fabricated and ready to install once the sheet metal, wiring and painting work on the façade is complete.

“We spent a few dollars extra and had the old clockwork timer replaced,” DeCourt said. “Now it will operate on a photocell, so it will turn on and off at night on its own without having to be reset.”

Renovating the 80-year-old sign was challenging because any work done to make repairs has to be done in accordance with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s standard for historic preservation. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in February 1999. Additionally, the sign itself has architectural significance as an example of the use of neon in Art Deco architecture. Neon did not see common use in Louisiana until the late 1930s, so the sign represents an early example in the state.

Another wrinkle came about when a truck hit the marquee last year, causing damage to the sheet metal, letterboard and neon tubes of the downtown landmark.

“I can’t wait to see it all lit up,” DeCourt said.

The project was funded through a community development block grant from Louisiana Main Street, along with matching funds from the city of New Iberia. In the coming weeks, the iconic sign will once again light the way for visitors.

From its humble beginnings at the dawn of the 20th century as a wholesale grocery, the theater grew into its present glory when it was remodeled as a movie house in 1929. The current Art Deco façade was finalized in a renovation 10 years later.

Dwayne Fatherree is the community editor for The Daily Iberian. He can be reached at dwayne.fatherree@daily-iberian.com.

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