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Iconic Minneapolis Grain Belt sign shines again

The landmark Grain Belt Beer sign is lit Dec. 30, 2017, after being dark since 1996. (Courtesy of Look & See Eye Care)

MINNEAPOLIS — Beer fans braved subzero temperatures Saturday night to stand outside near Minneapolis' Hennepin Avenue Bridge to see the iconic Grain Belt Beer sign light up for the first time since 1996.

August Schell Brewing Co., which now brews the Minneapolis-born Grain Belt, succeeded in purchasing the landmark sign on Nicollet Island in February 2016, after negotiating with the property owners, the Eastman Family Trust, since 2002.

The New Ulm-based brewery partnered with local historical consultants Hess, Roise & Co. to have the sign named to the National Register of Historic Places.

"It's a gem, a bodacious Minneapolis landmark — and a rare survivor among the once common supersized signs that advertised products and attractions across the United States," said Charlene Roise, president of Hess, Roise & Co., in a press release at the time of the sale.

Built in 1941 for $5,000, the Grain Belt Beer bottle cap sign was one of the largest freestanding neon signs in the region. The sign is approximately 50 feet wide and 40 feet tall.

Its makeover, replacing neon and incandescent lighting with LED lights, was paid for, in part, by beer fans through a "Buy a Bulb" fundraiser put on by Schell's, which purchased the Grain Belt brand in 2002.

"A family tradition since 1860, our historic Minnesota brewery is continually committed to preserving history, both at the brewery and in our community," Ted Marti, president and fifth-generation descendant of brewery founder August Schell, said in a press release.

The sign lighting commemorated the 125th anniversary of the original Grain Belt brewery in Northeast Minneapolis. The brewery complex, less than a mile north of the sign, has since been repurposed after an extensive renovation.

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