Restoration of Albion’s iconic coke sign begins again in expert hands

By SYLVIA BENAVIDEZ

Contributing Writer
July 29, 2021


“What we do is walk softly and don’t leave any footprints,”

 


 

Ron Koenig of Building Arts & Conservation, Inc. leads the Coca-Cola sign restoration on Superior Street said handing a coke to one of his workers gave him pause to think about the long history of the sign and the company of Coca-Cola.

Ron Koenig of Building Arts & Conservation Inc. out of Saline, Michigan said about his team working on Albion’s iconic Coke sign. Last week, Koenig, along with painter Howard Baker, brushed a sample square to verify how the colors would look on the brick and to give people passing by a view of what the colors will look like on the completed project.

Hot weather and rain slowed down the next phase of the restoration of the Coke Sign on the building currently housing Bumblebee Chic Boutique on Superior Street.

Koenig and his team had just finished the first phase of cleaning the building. “We are repointing the brick,” he explained a few weeks back. After they repaired the bricks and the area around the brick, they had to wait for the work to cure, or set before they paint.


The first step the team of Building Arts & Conservation Inc. had to take when restoring the sign was pointing and cleaning as seen in this picture. Repairing the brick and waiting for the treatment to cure took a little longer because of the extremes in weather over the last month.

They had hoped to start again after Independence Day, but weather interfered with their schedule.


“Everything was wet and too hot at one point because you want to have warm weather, but not scalding because it can cause blistering on the surface,” Koenig said.

But the time has not been wasted.


“I’ve been working with the Coca-Cola archives and the head archivist there. She’s given me the Pantone colors that were used in the sign in 1908.”


Through working with the Pantone’s universal language of color they have found the right shades of red, yellow, green, white and black.

Coca-Cola gave Koenig a marketing item, a carton, to make sure the red on the building matched the standard red of all their products and advertising. “Reds are notorious for color shift,” said Koenig.  Although a color can’t be patented in the U.S., Koenig said Coca-Cola guards its color mixtures, “They are careful how they use it. So, I have been working with them to get it right.”


The Coca-Cola marketing box was used to match the color palette on the iconic coke’s sign sample square as painted by Conservator Ron Koenig of Building Arts & Conservation and Howard Baker. Koenig’s company is restoring the sign with the help of contractors. Courtesy photo

From the research and Koenig’s understanding, a bird’s eye map shows that a building has been on pylons here since 1862.


The scissor lift has made the work on the Coca-Cola mural possible as Ron Koenig leader of the restoration project and painter Howard Baker work 35ft above the Kalamazoo River.


The sign was painted somewhere between 1908 and 1912.


“This was originally a piano store. If you look carefully, you can see it says Davis Piano store on the top above the Coca-Cola sign,” he said.

Koenig takes great pride in his work and his experience and that of his company bears witness to the authenticity the sign will have when it is finished. “All we do is historic buildings. I worked on the Bohm Theatre. I’ve worked at Albion College with mosaics on the roof.


Ron Koenig of Building Arts & Conservation, Inc. leads the Coca Cola sign restoration on Superior Street said handing a coke to one of his workers gave him pause to think about the long history of the sign and the company of Coca Cola.

I was chief curator for the Detroit Athletic Club. I’ve worked at the Henry Ford Museum for two years.


My degree is Master’s of Science in Architectural Conservation from the University of Pennsylvania,” Koenig explained. As a child, Koenig wanted to be a scientist. He never dreamed his skills would lead him to this kind of restoration work.  “I’ve been doing this for a long time,” he said.


“The biggest issue here is access. How do we get over running water by 35 feet?”


His team is using a scissor lift. Koenig emphasizes this is a team effort, he estimates 10 people have had a hand in this project including structural engineers to masonry conservators.


“I love what I get to do. I have to tell you that this is a very personal thing for me. I don’t see myself ever retiring.


Ron Koenig of Building Arts & Conservation Inc. and historic specialist painter Howard Baker contracted for this project to consult with each other as they move forward painting the iconic Coke Sign, on Superior St. and Cass St.

I am 61 years old, but I build scaffolding. I work every day and I love what I do. It’s not really work. If I won the lottery next week, I would keep doing what I’m doing.


I am so lucky. So few people are fortunate to enjoy what they do so much. What I love about it is that I get to wear all different hats,” Koenig explained.


And he knows that passion exists for those that work with him. “Sometimes I am an artist. Other days, I am a scientist looking at samples and other days I am figuring out the best ways for this building to survive as long as possible,” he shared.

Signing his work is not his style. After the Coca-Cola sign is done, none of his team will have their name anywhere on the sign. Koenig said he is not judging other artists. He just has a different philosophy. “This isn’t about me.


This is about Coca-Cola, about Americana.


The scissor lift has made the work on the Coca Cola mural possible as Ron Koenig leader of the restoration project and painter Howard Baker work 35ft above the Kalamazoo River.

It’s about the Davis Music Company that was here when this went on the wall.


It’s about the history.


The only place that I fit in here is making this last a lot longer.”


Photos by Sylvia Benavidez except as noted.  Photos and story copyright, The Recorder.

This story is reprinted with permission from The Recorder.
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