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Sun, June 16

Marquee messages: Sign for defunct drive-in boosts community spirit

Jane Orr and Stephen Rogers – both 1963 graduates of Prescott High School – stand in front of the Senator Drive-In sign on Senator Highway. The two friends were instrumental in getting the old drive-in theater sign restored and reinstalled after it was taken down in 2008. They now help to oversee the changing messages on the sign. (Cindy Barks/Daily Courier)

Jane Orr and Stephen Rogers – both 1963 graduates of Prescott High School – stand in front of the Senator Drive-In sign on Senator Highway. The two friends were instrumental in getting the old drive-in theater sign restored and reinstalled after it was taken down in 2008. They now help to oversee the changing messages on the sign. (Cindy Barks/Daily Courier)

What was once a spot for Prescott families and youths to soak up popular culture has evolved into a window, of sorts, into the local scene.

Over the past five years or so, the Senator Drive-in sign has served as a message board for a variety of topics,  including everything from holiday greetings to a marriage proposal to announcements about defensible space.

Although the once-popular Senator Drive-In Theater is long gone, the sign along Senator Highway still holds a special place in the hearts of Prescottonians from a certain era. So, when the sign was torn down for scrap metal in October 2008, plenty of long-time residents took note and expressed their disappointment.

Prominent among them were high school friends Stephen Rogers and Jane Orr. Both 1963 graduates of Prescott High School, the two got involved early on - Rogers by salvaging as much of the original old sign as he could, and Orr by helping to raise money to pay for its restoration.

"We started to rebuild it the day after it was torn down," Rogers said, adding, "I went to this drive-in since age five."

Orr said the project was a labor of love for those who were involved.

"It was mostly passion that got it done - Stephen's mostly," she said. "People are passionate about their childhoods and memories."

Contributions totaling about $2,000 came largely from PHS alumni, Orr said, adding that the fundraising is still going on. Future plans include installing a new marquee on the face of the sign.

Orr and Roger's involvement didn't stop with the restoration or the 2009 re-installation of the sign. Over the past five years, they have been on a mission to put fresh content on it.

This past week, for instance, the sign featured a nod to Veterans Day, with a message that noted that Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1918 signified "The end of the war to end all war."

Rogers, who painted a replica of a World War I soldier to accompany the text, said the message combined two of his interests - the history of the drive-in sign, and World War I.

"To me, World War I is still the most important war," Rogers said. Over the years, he estimates that he has read 30 or 40 books on the war and its results.

Prescott Historic Preservation Specialist Cat Moody noted that for those who grew up in Prescott in the mid-20th century, the drive-in sign is "very much an iconic representation for a period of time that's gone."

While the sign is located on public right-of-way, Moody said it is "completely managed by the Prescott High School Alumni Association (including Rogers and Orr)."

The city is often contacted about how to get a message on the sign, Moody said, and lets inquirers know that the Alumni Association handles the messages.

Rogers says he sees the sign as "an opportunity for people to put nice message up there."

Previous messages have featured: a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. ("Stick with love; hate is too great a burden"); an "Imagine" message and portrait of John Lennon; and a butterfly painting celebrating "the Vernal Equinox, life awakening."

Rogers said political or commercial messages are not allowed. Information about getting a message on the sign is available on the city's website at: http://www.cityofprescott.net/history/. To help with sign maintenance, a donation is requested and a one-month notice is suggested.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks.

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