Lights go down on beloved Seven Corners cowboy sign

by Michael Krieger

Standing 30 feet wide and 10 feet high, a massive neon cowboy roping a calf stood watch over Seven Corners for half a century, a beacon for West Bank commuters as they traveled from downtown.

Many area residents consider the animated red and white sign a historical treasure.

But the sign might soon flicker from existence if the current owner – the Holiday Inn Metrodome – is unable to sell the flamboyant 20th century icon.

“It would be great to see it somewhere on display,” said Dan Prozinski, president of the Cedar-Riverside Business Association.

The sign was dismantled this week and placed in storage while hotel management awaits a new owner.

Michael Borum, regional director of sales and marketing at the Holiday Inn, said he will place the neon cowboy on the Internet auction site eBay this week, with an asking price ranging from $3,000 to $10,000.

Prozinski said several West Bank business owners have discussed purchasing the cowboy, but none have negotiated a final price.

“To see it lit again on Seven Corners would be a lot to the neighborhood,” he said.

The neon cowboy originally adorned Hagen’s Appliance Store in 1952 – now the location of Grand Marc apartments – where it blazed for 30 years until the owner relocated to Columbia Heights.

Borum said the hotel purchased the neon cowboy in 1984, shortly after Hagen’s closed. The sign then became a centerpiece in the hotel’s bar for the next 20 years.

“It’s quite a sign,” said Borum. “It really did fit in with the old art deco look.”

Now, the Holiday Inn is shedding its art deco ambiance for a contemporary classic look, and the sign no longer befits the decor, he said.

“There has been talk about the local businesses getting together to purchase it,” he said.

Steve Antenucci, executive director of Theatre in the Round said, “It’s one of those things that should be in the neighborhood Ö I would hate to see it destroyed.”

But Antenucci said the theater decided not to buy the sign after considering the purchase and transport costs.

“We’ve been going back and forth over the costs involved,” he said.

While the neon cowboy might not enjoy the fame of Vegas Vic, it is still a coveted piece among neon enthusiasts. Jeff Monzel, owner of Lightadot, a neon and glassworks shop in northeast Minneapolis, described the sign as “magical.”

“It was just a giant nightlight; it really lit that place up,” he said. “You could see it from downtown.”

Monzel said neon flourished around the turn of the century, but its popularity waned in the 1960s. While there has been a recent resurgence of neon interest in art schools, Monzel laments the decline of neon.

“The seductive color, the old theme, it does invoke a certain nostalgia,” he said.

Michael Krieger covers University neighborhoods and welcomes comments at [email protected]