Waiting for a Sign
Q: Now that Hostess Brands has gone out of business, what will happen to the bakery’s Merita Bread sign?
A: The heavenly smell of baking bread is no more. But the towering neon treasure that for half a century has been a beacon for I-4 travelers west of downtown seems safe, at least for a while. The focus now is on breaking down equipment and operations at the closed plant, which could take up to a year, so the sign is “way down the laundry list,’’ says Doug Kirkland, regional manager for Hostess. It’s possible another company could buy the plant and start baking bread again—even Merita bread if the purchaser also acquires the rights to the brand, Kirkland says.
The neon icon—actually two signs, each facing in a different direction—likely would qualify for landmark sign status under a city program, says Richard Forbes, Orlando’s historic preservation officer. (The Plaza Theatre’s rotating spire and the neon cross at the Orlando Rescue Mission are two signs that have attained landmark status.) But the owner has to apply for the designation, and it only ensures that the sign be kept in its original form and in working order as long as it’s up—the owner can still take the sign down. Another city program offers more protection, but the approval process is more complex.
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, which has rescued and restored dozens of iconic signs and preserves them in a huge warehouse, is keeping an eye on the Merita sign, in case its services are needed. “It’s a great sign,’’ says director Laurence Ruggiero, a sentiment echoed by Kirkland and Forbes. “And it’s filled with a local sense of place.’’
Here’s an idea: Convert the bakery into lofts and make it the place to live in Orlando. Answer Man would gladly be the first tenant in…The Merita.
Q: Why do the performing arts center under construction downtown and the restored power plant along Lake Ivanhoe have the same name?
A: The renovated Orlando Utilities Commission building, which houses the practice and training facilities for the Orlando Ballet, is the Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts. The arts haven going up across from city hall is the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Dr. Phillips Charities has been instrumental in the creation of both venues, giving $1 million to help refurbish the Ivanhoe location (which opened in 1992), and $25 million to jump-start the new arts center.
But alas, the public could be confused once the downtown center opens in 2014. So, working with OUC, the Dr. Phillips organization plans to change the name of the Ivanhoe center “to recognize both the financial commitment of Dr. Phillips Charities and the historical importance of the building to OUC,’’ says Robert Mellen III, CEO of the philanthropic group. No word yet on the timetable or what the venerable old center’s new name will be.