The red neon sign atop the Rio Grande Depot, a landmark in downtown Salt Lake City since the mid-1950s, is coming down.
The sign will be removed starting Aug. 1, officials at the Utah Department of Heritage & Arts announced Tuesday. The department’s offices are in the state-owned depot at 300 S. Rio Grande St., along with the State History division, UServe Utah and the Rio Gallery.
A new sign is going up in place of the old one, and is scheduled to be finished by Oct. 11. It will face both east and west, to welcome visitors arriving from Interstate 15 and the Salt Lake City Intermodal Hub.
Officials said the old sign has been suffering from maintenance issues for years, and the spare parts to fix it “are no longer reasonably available.” Also, the frame holding the sign is dilapidated, and contractors refuse to use the catwalks on the depot’s roof to get to the sign to repair it.
The Denver and Rio Grande Western Depot was built in 1910, overseen by architect Henry Schlacks, to compete with the Union Pacific depot three blocks north. It became the place where many immigrants first arrived in Salt Lake City, and the last place in Utah that soldiers saw before being shipped off to fight in World War I and World War II.
The first sign was built on top of the depot in 1940, and faced east, west and north. When the current sign was installed in the 1950s, it faced only east, establishing the depot’s east side as the main entrance.
The old sign originally included the name Western Pacific, for the railroad that still used the depot. That part of the sign was removed sometime in the mid-'80s, Heritage & Arts officials said, when the depot was an Amtrak stop.
The depot was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and the state of Utah bought the building in 1977 for a dollar.
The new sign’s design was submitted after two years of review and analysis, including an application for historic preservation compliance from the state’s Division of Facilities & Construction Management. That process included consulting the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission and its Redevelopment Agency, the Downtown Alliance, Preservation Utah, the Pioneer Park Coalition and the Rio Grande Cafe’s owners.