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Pittsburgh’s iconic Benedum Center marquees to be restored

 A large theater with a marquee missing.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The blue and golden marquees have been an illuminating staple of the Downtown Cultural Trust since the building first opened as the Stanley Theatre.

After a century, the two grand marquees on the Benedum Center are being restored. The pair of iconic blue and golden signs on Seventh and Penn Avenues, Downtown, were last fully restored when the Benedum was called the Stanley Theatre, which was known for its vaudeville performances and later movie screenings.

Earlier this summer, local contractors meticulously removed the signs to clean them and added longer-lasting LED lights. According to Nick Gigante, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust senior vice president of development and real estate, the goal is to make them look as close to the originals as possible.

“It will be brought back to life and illuminate this important stretch of the Cultural District,” Gigante said.

The architecture firm MCF is leading the renovation, which Gigante says makes sense considering it was part of the team that transitioned the Stanley Theatre into the Benedum Center in the 1980s and is familiar with the technology and materials. Shamrock Signs, based in Carnegie, took the marquees to its plant for restoration.

Back in the day, Gigante said, theater employees changed out the incandescent bulbs on the marquees when they burnt out. These days, the signs can be controlled digitally.

“What was really important, of course, was matching the softness and the color so that it wasn't quite as bright as some LEDs are,” Gigante said. “It's giving that kind of warm feeling that people are used to but more with more energy efficiency.”

 A worker attaches a large sign with orange cones in the background.
Seth Culp-Ressler
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Workers secure a marquee for transport.

Before the creation of the Cultural Trust, Downtown had a reputation for being dangerous and dirty. To transform the neighborhood, the Trust and other partners made an effort to illuminate Downtown, including light-based public art projects and the displays outside of the grand theaters. Gigante said that has helped to shape the Cultural District today.

“There's activity, there's a vibrancy. The restaurants are alive, and there's activity,” Gigante said. “And of course, now there's thousands more residents that live here. So it's that kind of seven-day-a-week activity that we love.”

The Stanley was built in 1928, and through the years it hosted musicians and performers including Frank Sinatra (1943), Frank Zappa (1978) and Prince (1981). The displaying of these famed performers on the marquees, Gigante said, is something many longtime residents will remember.

“That’s part of our history and part of what makes it this iconic place,” he said.

There was little decay when workers removed the signs from the building, and Gigante said the project is expected to be completed in September. They might also have a little party for the unveiling, he added.

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA and 91.3 WYEP, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community.