May 182015
 

sputnik-sign







Sputnik will twinkle again. Crews from Ace Sign. Co. of Springfield removed the iconic satellite over the weekend from its decades’-long perch atop the soon-to-be-demolished Bel-Aire Motel building.

The fiberglass ball of spikes, frayed wires and burned-out, multi-colored bulbs was in pieces Monday on a warehouse floor at the Ace Sign headquarters, 2540 S. First St.

Plans are to restore Sputnik for inclusion in a company museum of vintage Springfield signs.
We spoke with the owners, and they were very gracious,” said Dennis Bringuet, president of Ace Sign Co. “We told them we had a little museum here, and we were just getting started. They thought it would be a nice home for it and donated it.”
The last of the residents moved out of the Bel-Aire, 2636 S. Sixth St., early this year. The property is scheduled for demolition as part of settlement with the city of chronic code violations.

Sputnik won’t be ready for Tuesday’s dedication of an Ace Sign Co. museum through Local First Springfield, a shop-local business organization. The museum resulting from 75 years in the sign business is a neon who’s who of the city’s retail-commercial history from The Hub clothing store downtown to Reisch Brewery.
The best guess, according to the Bringuet family, was that Sputnik went up at the Bel-Aire in the early 1960s. Sputnik signs’ were common across the country as a way of grabbing traveler attention in the years after the former Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, into space in 1957.

After years of neglect and exposure to the elements, restoring Sputnik to its twinkling, multi-color glory likely will take a little creative tinkering, according to Bringuet.
“The electronics are antiquated,” he said. “The flasher made all the bulbs twinkle. They’d all come off and on at different times. We may have to do some searching to try to find that device.”
“Flashers aren’t used these days. A lot of municipalities have outlawed flashing signs.”

Sputnik completes an orbit in the sign business for Bringuet’s parents, Joe and Louise. The sign museum is named in their honor.
Joe Bringuet recalled installation of the original wooden and metal signs at the Bel-Aire, followed a few years later by Sputnik. He said the then-Bel-Aire owners purchased the Sputnik from a manufacturer in California.
“They made them as a specialty. They had salesmen on the road that would really target motels,” he said. “That (Sixth Street) was city Route 66.”
The Springfield Sputnik, said Bringuet, was a low-end model for its time. More expensive models, he said, would rotate. Bringuet also recalled seeing the real Sputnik in the skies over central Illinois in 1957. Historians credit the launch of Sputnik 1 with kicking off the space race and the eventual U.S. landing on the moon.
“In the evening, right at sundown,” said Bringuet, “it would shine on the bottom side of Sputnik, as it took its orbital flight around the world. You could sit in the yard and see it, because it wasn’t real high.”

Ace also installed a large, metal sign on the roof and a wooden “town crier” sign on the lawn of the Bel-Aire.
“It had a colonial man with a colonial hat,” said Joe Bringuet. “He had three bells on a flasher, and the bells would go up and down with an arm that would go with it. It was pretty neat for its time.”
Joe, 85, and Louise, 86, continue to work five days a week at the company now headed by their son. Louise Bringuet’s parents, Franklin and Alvina Horn, started Ace Sign Co. in 1940 with one truck and a handful of paintbrushes, according to a company history. Early company signs are part of the museum.

Joe Bringuet does much of the vintage-sign restoration work, while Louise works in the front office. Both said they had no plans to retire.
“There’s nothing to do at home but work,” Louise said with a smile.
In Joe’s case, 2015 marks 65 years at the company.
“She’s the boss’s daughter, and it was job security,” he said. “I married her.”
His next restoration, a vintage Anheuser-Busch neon sign, is in the works, said Joe, who speaks with detailed enthusiasm about his projects.
Why sit at home on the porch waiting to die,” he said, “when we can die here.”

By Tim Landis – The State Journal-Register

May 302014
 










Whenever Sandra Brunner returns from Montana to her hometown of Springfield for a visit, if she must pass the Bel-Aire Motel, she looks the other way.

Whenever Sandra Brunner returns from Montana to her hometown of Springfield for a visit, if she must pass the Bel-Aire Motel, she looks the other way.
The Bel-Aire, 2636 S. Sixth St., is different things to different people. Some think of it as home, at least temporarily. People who don’t know it’s a mess think of it as a Route 66 attraction with cool neon and the Sputnik flying overhead. But most of us think of it as a rundown eyesore and breeding ground for crime.

For Sandra, the Bel-Aire means family. Her father, Charles Ciesler, built it. Sandra and her family had great times there when she was a little girl. She and her cousin, Chuck Ciesler of Springfield, have watched with dismay the deterioration of the motel that has taken place since 1986, when the family sold it to Gopal Motwani, absentee co-owner who lives in Florida.
“I saw (the Bel-Aire) start to go downhill two weeks after it was sold,” Chuck Ciesler says. “That’s when they let a bunch of the maids go.”

The exact date when the Cieslers opened the Bel-Aire Manor Motel is at least temporarily lost to history. We have a file of stories on it that date back to the 1960s, but if we ever printed a story when the Bel-Aire opened, it’s not there. The Sangamon Valley Collection, repository of local history, doesn’t have one either. And the closest the Cieslers can pin it down is 1949 or 1950.
The first appearance of the Bel-Aire Manor Motel in any Springfield City Directory is 1951, so it had to open in late 1949 or sometime in 1950.
It began as a collection of small cabins and grew from there. Charles Ciesler and his brother, Emil, had greater plans for the motel. In 1966, Emil attended a meeting of the Springfield City Council with blueprints for an $870,000 construction project that would make the Bel-Aire a six-story motel with 64 rooms, a restaurant, bar and convention facilities.
Though it was not within the city limits of Springfield at that time, the Cieslers had to go before the council because zoning laws that covered the perimeter of the city imposed a height limit on buildings.
At the council meeting, the Cieslers were given the OK for an 85-foot height limit on the Bel-Aire. I don’t know why they never followed through with those plans, but they didn’t. Charles and Emil have died, taking the explanation with them.
The Bel-Aire won a national reputation because of its Route 66 connection, a reputation that lingers today since most travelers down the highway don’t know what it has become. Which leads us back to Sandra Brunner, Charles Ciesler’s daughter.
“I remember my mom, 60-some years ago, would clean the cabins,” she says. “She would take me along in a little wagon, all bundled up. There was a gas station out front and a little bar not far from the motel.”

“After my dad sold it, it went right down. Every time I come home from Montana and have to drive there, I cringe. It used to be such a beautiful place. There was not a piece of litter in that parking lot back then.”
Now, the Bel-Aire is the butt of jokes. People post satirical reviews of it on Web-based travel sites.
The city of Springfield has been dealing with the deterioration of the Bel-Aire under Motwani’s ownership for more than 20 years. Mayor Tim Davlin wanted the city to buy it and renovate it into a Route 66 museum. There was no money for that.
We thought the ordeal was finally over in 1995. That’s when the city ordered it closed because of numerous fire code and other safety violations. The Circuit Court, on Sept. 20, 1995, granted the city’s request to close the Bel-Aire — until a fire alarm system was installed, damage from a previous fire was repaired and other safety improvements made. Not many people expected the owners to ever be allowed to reopen it. But somehow they did, and it continued to worsen.

The police reported being called to the motel 82 times in 2003. In 2004, Bel-Aire neighbors attended a meeting with the neighborhood cop at Ward 6 Ald. Mark Mahoney’s office to air their complaints. Everyone had their say, and nothing came of it. Three years later, 12 people were busted for drugs at the Bel-Aire.
Motwani was fined $114,600 in 2011 for 386 violations. He appealed, and that’s still tied up in court three years later.
About a month ago, Motwani was hit with another fine (file all these fines under “I” for “ineffective”) when the city found 700 building code violations. What does a person have to do to be shut down, their property condemned or be hauled into court? Motwani’s Bel-Aire is as hard to kill as its cockroaches. So you can expect to read the same story again in the future.
There must be some financial advantage to owning a place like this. I’m just not savvy enough to know what it could be.
But really, how toothless are Springfield’s ordinances to allow this situation to fester for so long? It’s nuts. I feel bad for the Ciesler family, and I feel embarrassed for Springfield.

By Dave Bakke -the State Journal-Register