An All-Around 1st

From up to 20 miles away visitors can spot First National Bank's “1st” sign, a beacon over the St. Paul skyline.
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This past St. Patrick’s Day, the “1st” sign atop the First National Bank building in downtown St. Paul shone a bright green to celebrate the Irish holiday. But this wasn’t always the case. Newly installed rope LEDs capable of producing just about any color under the sun had replaced neon tubing destroyed by a hail and ice storm in the winter of 2015-16. During the interim the sign was dark for a year, and the people of St. Paul weren’t having it.

Once it went dark, calls flooded in to the building owner, Scott Goltz of Madison Equities. Goltz was not surprised. Many people consider the 1st sign, which dates back to 1936, a St. Paul landmark. Indeed, one of the main reasons the company recently purchased the 32-story Art Deco building was the distinctive sign. Given the strong response to its outage, Goltz and partners decided to restore the 1st sign to its former glory – and then some.

The 1st sign is unusual in that there are really three 1st signs mounted at 60° angles to one another and standing 50 ft. tall. The first step in renovation involved bringing in an engineering consulting firm to ensure the soundness of the steel support structure. Then the owners hired S.M.L. Electrical Inc. (Minneapolis) to dismantle the 4,000 linear feet of neon and transformers and select the new lighting system. Hurd Maintenance (North St. Paul, MN) handled the sanding, priming and coating of the vermillion, vitreous porcelain-edged signface. Hurd selected Benjamin Moore Corotech® Acrylic Gloss DTM V330 enamel, applying two coats of primer, two coats of white enamel and three coats of red enamel to the signfaces.

Maintenance and lighting costs for the neon were running $30,000 per year and $20,000 per year, respectively. LED lighting was considered the most effective replacement due to a potential 80% savings in electricity usage. Vivid Pixel LED Neon Flex product with DMX control from Green LED Lighting Solutions (Moncton, NB, Canada) was selected. The rope lighting produces 110 lumens/m, consumes 12W/m and has a running length up to 33 ft. “This is one of the only waterproof RGB systems on the market and the control system is very nice in that you can switch the colors easily using a smart phone or other digital device,” explained Pat Lawrance of S.M.L. Electrical. The sign has concentric rows of lights to achieve a number of color combinations and a spectacular display.