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Up-ended

• A 1940s landmark Hollywood District soda sign goes the way of all fizz

The malty aroma of the brewery doesn't ride the breeze around downtown Portland anymore. Not since the Blitz-Weinhard Brewing Co. moved away. Nor do baseballs ricochet wildly off the swimsuited Jantzen girl at Beaver games. They took her off the left-field wall.

And yet another winsome piece of the city's commercial history will vanish in coming weeks when the vintage 7 Up sign high above the Hollywood neighborhood in Northeast Portland blinks off for the last time. The bold neon beacon, garish in the style of its time, will be replaced by a Budweiser sign.

'When I was first out of college, I came out here from back East,' said Mildred Donahue, a member of the Hollywood Boosters, the local neighborhood association. 'I know it was there then. I know it was there in the '40s.

'It's kind of a landmark out here,' she said.

A group known as 3701 Investors LLC reached a final agreement last week with Anheuser-Busch Inc. to replace the sign with a red neon 'B' for Budweiser. Brian Kelley, one of the investors, said the changeover should take place within 45 days.

The sign had no official historic designation.

'We checked with the city,' Kelley said. 'The sign can be redesigned as long as it's within the confines of the original sign. They're not really bringing the sign down, they're rebuilding it.'

'That 7 Up has been up there for many, many years,' said Bob Gruber, president of Portland's Multi-Light Sign Co., which has contracted to do the work. 'I hate to see old signs disappear. It's kind of a landmark. It leaves you a sense of nostalgia. Once they're gone, you can't do anything.'

The 7 Up sign is thought to date from the mid- to late 1940s, when the soft drink it advertises was bottled in the building beneath it. The space previously had housed a paint store and a dairy, at which point the cylindrical facade of the building formed a huge milk bottle. Gruber said the sign most likely was built by Epcon, a prominent sign company that went out of business decades ago.

'That's got a scintillating chaser on it,' Gruber said, referring to a special effects mechanism in the sign's electrical works. 'You don't see that very often on signs around town anymore. I hate to see it go away.'

The sign once featured bubbles rising in sequence and the product slogan 'You like it, it likes you' on alternating panels. In recent years, it consisted simply of stationary elements.

'They've refurbished that sign several times,' Gruber said. 'They either removed some of the copy or painted it out.'

Born in the Midwest

Like Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser, 7 Up hails from St. Louis, Mo. Invented in 1929 by chemical engineer Charles Leiper Grigg, it was originally called Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda. Its popularity crested in the 1970s, when it sold itself as an alternative to cola beverages, but since has waned.

It is now the third-most popular noncola in the country behind Mountain Dew and Sprite.

Kelley, one of the building partners, said 7 Up maintained the sign until its local bottling operation went out of business in recent years. Since then, 3701 Investors took possession of the sign, paying electricity bills as high as $400 a month.

'We haven't been receiving any income,' Kelley said.

The group had been seeking a lessee for some time, Kelley said, and nearly struck a deal with the the Hollywood Boosters. 'We tried to get Hollywood to take over the sign, but they couldn't come up with the funding,' he said.

'We would like to have had 7 Up step up,' Kelley said.

Mark Halvorsen, president of the Hollywood Boosters, said that while the local 7 Up distributor, Columbia Distributing Co., seemed sympathetic to efforts to save the sign, officials at the company's corporate headquarters were unresponsive. Kelley said 7 Up did not respond to inquiries made by the owners group.

'We had some other parties that were very interested,' Kelley said. 'Budweiser just kept moving it forward.' He said his group initially sought $2,500 monthly in rent but would not disclose terms of the final agreement.

Individuals familiar with the outdoor advertising market in Portland said rent on the space could have ranged as high as $5,000 a month.

'You just don't get that kind of spot,' one executive said. 'That would be one I would have marketed at the top end.'

On Monday, members of the Hollywood Boosters said they were unaware of the deal's signing.

New point of pride?

Maletis Beverage owner Rob Maletis said that the change of signs would amount to an upgrade that could create a new and better point of civic pride.

Maletis is the exclusive distributor of Budweiser products in Portland.

'It could've just been wiped out altogether,' Maletis said. 'Now we're going to talk to our grandkids, and you know what? It might be a new landmark. Things do change.'

Maletis said the condition of the sign had deteriorated significantly.

'It was getting extremely old and tired,' he said. 'It was not going to continue as it was. What is the next best solution? Give it some new life.'

He said little was lost when, in a comparable change, the Made in Oregon sign on the downtown waterfront was created from one that for years had advertised the outfitter White Stag.