Iconic Aztec Theater sign glows again after more than decade of darkness

Downtown Aztec landmark has been repaired at cost of $10,000

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
The refurbished Aztec Theater sign lights up the twilight in downtown Aztec after a short ceremony on Jan. 25.

AZTEC — The idea of returning the iconic neon sign outside the Aztec Theater to working order is something city officials here have dreamed of for close to 10 years.

But it wasn't until dusk on Tuesday, Jan. 25 that their idea became a reality. While a crowd of three or four dozen people watched, an oversize, ceremonial switch was flipped, and the colorful vertical sign was lit up in dazzling hues of orange, red, green, blue and white.

Aztec City Commissioner and Mayor pro-tem Ken George, the former director of the city's electric utility, said it has been a long, challenging road to get the sign outside the former theater, located at 104 Main Ave., operating again.

But he was all smiles after the ceremony.

"I am so, so delighted and so happy," he said with a wide grin. "It's a piece of the history of Aztec. Not only will the people who grew up here gawk at the sign and say, 'That's great,' but future generations will, as well. … It's an iconic piece of Aztec just like the (Aztec Ruins)."

A crowd gathers along Main Avenue in Aztec on Jan. 25 for a ceremony marking the completion of a project to return the Aztec Theater sign to working order.

George estimated the cost of repairing the long-broken sign, which dates from the 1950s, at $10,000. He said the money for the project came from a public relations fund in the electric utility budget, and repair work started approximately a year ago.

Workers had to replace hundreds of bulbs and 10 transformers to get the sign working again, he said. But most of the labor devoted to the project consisted of cleaning out bird droppings, George said, estimating that $3,000 to $5,000 was spent on that unsavory job alone.

The relighting ceremony wasn't entirely successful, as the part of the sign featuring feathers and representing a Native war bonnet failed to illuminate. George said that malfunction likely was the result of a loose connection, and he promised to have it fixed in short order.

The building to which the sign is attached is no longer a movie theater and currently houses the arts nonprofit organization Inspire HeART. George said the city is leasing the sign from the building's owner to promote the town, just as it might lease a billboard from a media company.

The maintenance of the sign and the utility bills it generates will be the responsibility of the city, George said. The sign will be illuminated every night just like a streetlight, he said.

From 2013 to 2018, the Aztec Theater building housed Crash Music at the Aztec Theater, a live music operation owned by George Rowe. Rowe, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona, said he was pleased to hear of the refurbishment of the sign and noted that he looked into getting it fixed when his business occupied the building. But the estimates he received for repair work were prohibitive, he said, and he decided against it.

George said there were other attempts to get the sign fixed over the years, the most recent being more than a decade ago when he was running the city's electric utility. George said he briefly succeeded in getting the sign operating again for a short time in 2011. But the aging equipment quickly failed again, and the project lost all its momentum, he said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.