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Naturita CO Uranium Drive-In sign restored

November 5, 2012

November 5, 2012

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News & Events

Below is a story from the Telluride Daily Plant about the Uranium Drive-in sign in Naturita, CO. It was recently restored after over 20 years. Click here for the full story.

“The Uranium Drive-in sign stood on the edge of town in Naturita for many years around the middle of the 20th century, acting both as nod to the industry that was booming in the West End of San Miguel and Montrose counties during that time and as the symbol of the region’s social hub.

The drive-in served as a gathering place for people who lived in the small towns scattered in the West End during the uranium rush between the 1950s and 1980s. It was a place where teenagers would congregate, couples would go on dates and parents would bring their children. People traveled from Nucla, Paradox, Uravan and farther to catch movies at the drive-in, even if they were bad ones. In the 1970s, when the population of Naturita topped 1,000, it was the town’s social hotspot.

But as the uranium rush wound down in the mid-‘80s, and the mines started closing, jobs grew scarce, residents began an exodus and the community was left depleted. The drive-in closed, and some years later the sign came down. It ended up in a field, where it lay for several years.

Last spring, however, a campaign to restore the sign was launched by the Town of Naturita, with an online fundraising drive and a goal to re-erect it as a monument to an era of significance in the town’s history.

In the ensuing months, some $10,000 was raised via the website IndiGoGo, a full restoration of the sign was completed, and on Tuesday, the sign was installed with a crane and the help of crews at its new home — between Naturita Sales and Blondie’s Drive-In & Cafe, right on the main drag through town.

“I think it looks fantastic,” said Naturita Mayor Tami Lowrance, who helped spearhead the project. “I’m very excited, and very appreciative of the people who joined in to make it happen.”

The town is holding a barbecue and ceremony on Sunday to celebrate the restoration. The event is at 2 p.m. at the sign next to Blondie’s Drive-In, and people are invited to eat chilidogs, learn a bit about the history of the sign and check out the refurbished work. “We’re hoping that people will go over to Blondie’s and pick up a milkshake or ice cream or drink,” Lowrence said. “Because without Blondie’s, we would not have the sign.”

The funding campaign kicked off in April, but the effort to restore the sign can be traced back to 2007, when former Naturita Mayor Cameron Riley led a campaign to purchase the sign, which had been moved to Nucla since it came down, but was for sale. Once the town was in possession of it, however, it ended up lying in a field near the town’s old water treatment facility.

Recognizing that the sign — and the era it represents — was a significant part of the community’s historic fabric, the town mobilized the effort to restore the sign this spring. More than 100 individuals from all over the country chipped in with donations ranging from $5 to $1,000, eventually pooling the $10,000 needed for the work, and many local businesses and companies donated time, materials and gifts to the cause.

Randy Sutherland of Nucla did the restoration, buffing it out to find the original green hue. Dan Chancellor of Placerville’s Porcupine Signs did the hand lettering. Reams Construction donated time and materials to engineer the cement pads, Williams Construction donated the concrete for those pads and San Miguel Power Association donated its time and crane to help move the sign. Jason Carver from Naturita Public Works helped orchestrate the installation.

While the sign used to sit on the hill on Road 97 between Naturita and Nucla, the right of way now belongs to the Colorado Department of Transportation, which did not want to put the sign back up in its original place. Willie and Fred Roate, owners of Blondie’s, stepped in and offered their property on Highway 141 in town as the new location. As their property is located in the heart of Naturita, many a passersby will now get a good look at this historic icon.

Lowrance, who grew up in Redvale and went to plenty of movies at the Drive-In in her youth, noted that the campaign has stirred up a lot of memories; the town fielded many calls and visits from people who fondly remember watching movies from tailgates and visiting the snack shack.

“I guess the thing I found the most interesting about the sign is all the memories,” she said. “People got engaged there, people had their first date there … There’s a lot of people here who had memories who had gone to it.

“It’s just good to see the sign back up,” she said.”

-The Telluride Daily Planet, Katie Klingsporn