The vintage arrows sign at the oldest Orchard Supply Hardware site in San Jose has disappeared, and preservationists are desperately trying to find out where it is.
Neither History San Jose nor the Preservation Action Council of San Jose has the sign, and they also have not been able to determine it’s whereabouts. Brian Grayson, executive director of the Preservation Action Council-San Jose, has reached out to representatives from Google, which owns the property, and Hilco, the company liquidating Orchard Supply stores, but had not received a response from either.
“We are working on it but we don’t have an answer yet,” Grayson said. An email sent to Hilco by this news organization Tuesday morning also had not received a response.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, who called for the county to conduct a historic inventory and evaluation of neon signs and other roadside architecture along the West San Carlos Street corridor, expressed his concern about the sign’s fate and its effect on the property in a statement.
“I am dismayed to hear that the Orchard Supply Hardware sign has been removed from its home on San Carlos Street. Given the amount of media attention about the sign’s fate in recent months, I fear this may be a willful act to prevent any preservation restrictions being placed on the property,” Yeager said. “I hope the sign is still intact somewhere, and I call on Lowe’s, Orchard Supply’s parent company, Google, the new owner of the San Carlos Street property, and Hilco, the company in charge of liquidating Orchard Supply’s assets, to step up and show they care about this community by producing the sign.”
Heather David, an expert on Mid-Century Modern architecture and sign preservation advocate, said her hope — and the best case scenario — is that Lowe’s had the sign removed to prevent it from being vandalized on the vacant site. In August, she said, “The Orchard Supply Hardware sign is a historic place marker for that period. The sign also represents a company founded in San Jose — a piece of history that we can call our very own. For connoisseurs of historic signage, the sign is arguably, a work of fine craftsmanship — every neon tube hand-blown and bent.”
Other possibilities include someone “liberating” the sign on their own or — the worst case scenario — the sign being trashed during clean-up of the site, which was shuttered last month and had its remaining merchandise moved to other stores.
The absence of the sign, which was visible from San Carlos Street as it approaches Bird Avenue, was noticed Monday morning. Installed after construction of hardware chain’s 1948 store, the iconic sign was marked for preservation when Lowe’s announced in August it was closing all 98 of its locations nationwide. OSH was founded as a farmers’ co-op in 1931 in San Jose and was acquired by Lowe’s in 2013.
Ken Middlebrook, curator of collections at History San Jose, said the organization made known its interest in obtaining the sign several weeks ago and had provided a quote on the cost of removing the sign and moving it to History San Jose’s collection center. But as of Tuesday, he hadn’t received a response.