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Retro liquor store sign must come down

ST. PETERSBURG — Whenever Paul Misiewicz tells anyone he's putting a 22,000-square-foot building in place of his small liquor store, all they ever care about is the sign.

Big and bold, the sign stands 22 feet tall at Central Avenue and 16th Street N.

It's painted red and black and has a massive globe of the world that once lit up and rotated with the help of a stick. It was designed in 1961 with a 1950s globe that was part of a sign outside a downtown furniture store.

But when the new building goes up, there's no room for the sign. It won't match the ultramodern stone building, and it sits right in the way of the building.

Which prompts the question: What's going to happen to the sign?

• • •

As Misiewicz got permission from city officials to vacate an alley and plan his site, they were curious about his new building, which is expected to cost about $3.5-million and triple the size of his liquor store and add a wine store, a 3,000-square-foot wine cellar, two elevators and parking for 57 cars.

But what they really wanted to know was whether he was going to save the sign.

Misiewicz loves the sign. His uncle, now in an Oregon nursing home, designed it for the liquor store when they bought it in 1961. Originally from Massachusetts, his uncle moved down here and opened several businesses in the 1950s in downtown St. Petersburg with financial help from Misiewicz's father.

Misiewicz was about 11 when his father moved to Florida and took over the old liquor store, which even today has horsehair in the plaster. At that point, the globe still rotated on its own. It stopped turning in the 1970s. The light inside the globe would go on and off for years until it finally died about seven years ago.

Misiewicz thought of repairing it. But to take it down and repair it, he would have to put it back up following city codes. As it is, the sign no longer meets city codes, but it's grandfathered in.

"Structurally, it's at the end of its life span without major work on it," Misiewicz said. "In order to keep the sign working, it would be very expensive. … There are too many things against me to try to use it."

Misiewicz contacted one company to find out how much it would cost to repair it. The answer? About $60,000.

So he has been trying to find someone who might want to take it and save it. Otherwise, he plans to take it down and possibly incorporate pieces of it into his new building.

He said one city official called a national sign museum in Ohio about taking the sign.

Tod Swormstedt, president of the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, said he wanted the sign for his museum, which features similar signs that came out of the space-crazed '50s, including a rotating globe with Sputniks from a shopping center in Anaheim, Calif.

But Misiewicz told him he didn't think the sign would survive the trip to Ohio. It's made of plastic and metal, and the plastic on the globe is already cracked.

Swormstedt said he's probably not going to try to get it at this point.

"It's a really cool sign," Sworm­stedt said. "It represented that kind of '50s look."

Recently, Mary Ann Lynch, who owns more than 60 pieces of property in St. Petersburg, which she names after places on the Monopoly board game, decided she wanted to save the world.

She contacted Misiewicz, who agreed to give it to her if she could get it off his property.

Lynch wants to put it on a vacant lot she owns at 327 Fifth St. S.

She owns the apartment building on one side, which she calls Mediterranean (a purple piece on the Monopoly board). Across the street is her Park Place property.

There are some zoning ordinances that would need to be followed and possible permits that would need to be pulled, city officials say.

"Signs are only permitted in conjunction with a principal use," said Philip Lazzara, a zoning official with the city. "You can't just put a sign on a piece of property by itself."

But Lynch, 47, says city officials are trying to help her save the sign and get the necessary permission to put it there, specifically by giving it a historic designation.

If she gets the sign, Lynch plans to change the letters on it from World Liquors to Times Square, the name of her property company. She thinks she can get the sign repaired for less than the $60,000 that Misiewicz was quoted.

"I want to put it on that lot," Lynch said, "and call it art."

Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at lapeter@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8640.

Retro liquor store sign must come down 08/05/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 2:23pm]
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