Weather-beaten and rusted, the towering 25th Street Theatre sign has become a hazard to itself and passersby. Crews with A-1 Banner & Sign, Jackson Sign & Lighting and Wales Crane & Rigging will work Thursday to remove the sign with as little damage as possible before placing it in storage.

Barricades will divert traffic around North 25th Street at Grim Avenue in the North Waco neighborhood starting at 8 a.m. The city has set aside a six-hour window for the take-down, city spokesman Larry Holze said.

The 74-year-old movie house likely will fall to make room for a $5.1 million fire station that will serve as a replacement for Station No. 6, which is nearby. A groundbreaking is planned in August to kick off a 12-month construction project.

Recent rains and wind aggravated the sign’s decline, causing a crimp near the peak that alarmed a city staffer driving through the area. The topic came up last week during a regular meeting between fire department officials and other city officials, Waco Fire Chief Bobby Tatum said Tuesday.

A local sign company and structural engineer both inspected and recommended the sign come down because of its age, size and location “over a sidewalk and traffic intersection,” according to a city press release Tuesday.

The 25th Street Theatre opened in 1945 with 780 seats, a relative novelty called air conditioning, a wide screen and murals inside. It closed in 1982, bowing to multiscreen theaters, before becoming a nightclub for several years. It closed in 1992 and fell into disrepair. The city tagged it as unsafe in 2001, and ownership disputes hampered redevelopment until the city bought the property last year.

Discussions continue over whether the building is beyond saving. City staffers told the Waco City Council in December it was not salvageable, citing an inspection by a structural specialist.

“That is the unfortunate part of properties not being well-preserved, but I think the good news is that the city did purchase it and we can build a replica to keep a version of the theater in the neighborhood,” Councilman Dillon Meek said at the time. Meek, whose District 4 includes the North Waco theater site, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Holze said the council has not taken formal action to raze the building.

Addressing the troubled sign, A-1 Banner & Sign President Leonard Hooks said his company subcontractors “will preserve as much of its look as possible, hopefully in one piece. We don’t know if that will happen, or if it is even feasible, considering the ramifications of the sign having been there since, what, the 1940s. Until we actually get it down, we can’t really know what’s going to happen to it. Our aim is to save it. The city hopes to use it in a future building. We do know that the main structure of the sign, what’s holding it up, is steel that is pretty heavily rusted. That’s an issue.”

The “faces” of the faded sign, once light green and still accented with neon, are made of porcelain, Hooks said. The faces were made using a process common early in the 20th century that has all but disappeared.

“Our objective is to save those porcelain pieces, as they can’t be replaced,” Hooks said. “We can make new panels that look just like them, applying a powdered coating to aluminum. Certainly we do a lot of refurbishing of signs, and we’re experienced in creating new faces because we do all kinds of sign work. But we do not have many opportunities to take down and restore signs on a 60, 70, 80-year-old building, and that’s what we’re shooting to do.”

He said storing the sign will be Jackson Sign & Lighting’s responsibility. No one with Jackson could be reached for comment Tuesday.

“I saw ‘Bambi’ in that theater. I saw a lot of movies in that theater,” Hooks said. “It was one of the nicest theaters in Waco for many, many years, with its art deco kind of style and large graphics on the wall. The sign, if it is restored, will be covered and secured in the meantime. The process will begin in a short enough period of time that any additional degradation should probably not occur.”

City purchasing director Kelly Holechek said the city has a $13,000 contract with A-1 Banner & Sign to remove, transport and place the sign in storage for up to three years, which includes work by subcontractors.

‘Should be interesting’

Wales Crane & Rigging owner Greg Schroeder said he will assign one of his smaller pieces of equipment to the task: a 30-ton crane with a 112-foot boom. He will charge $185 an hour, with a two-hour minimum.

“It won’t be a huge money-maker for us, but it should be interesting,” Schroeder said. “The city has set aside six hours, but I doubt we’ll be there that long with our part. We’ll probably be out of there in three to four hours.”

Schroeder said he grew up in Waco and also spent time at 25th Street Theatre.

“But the only movie I can specifically remember seeing there was ‘Jaws,’ ” Schroeder said. “Gosh, I imagine I was 10 or 12 years old, probably not really old enough to be seeing it, frankly. But, yes, I am familiar with that theater.”

Besides becoming home to a fire house, the 25th Street Theatre site will house fire administration offices and may offer community meeting rooms. There also has been talk of creating a museum to celebrate the theater’s history, with Tatum vowing to install a popcorn machine.

The city will have a public input meeting on the station once the project architect finishes a proposed design, Tatum said last week.

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