To the surprise of Ukiah locals, an iconic neon Mr. Frostie sign that hung for decades along South State Street in Ukiah is refurbished and now on display but no longer in the Ukiah Valley.
Since 1948 the Frosties sign, crafted in the shape of an enormous ice cream cone, stood 20 feet above an old hamburger stand in the 700 block of South State.
The refurbished sign was formally dedicated at 11 a.m. Sunday at a new site on the Lake County fairgrounds in Lakeport. Donors Sandra and John Mayfield, a legendary Ukiah Valley business couple, will be honored for their generosity.
The Lake County site was not the Mayfields' first choice. The sign had been offered to the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds in Ukiah, but apparently, directors there overruled the fair manager and rejected the donation. The Mayfields offered to cover the costs to make the weathered and worn sign operable again, this time with a string of LED neon lights instead of the hard-to-replace original neon.
When Janeane Bogner, a Ukiah native, learned of the sign’s plight, she quickly acted on behalf of the Lake County Fair. Bogner has been a board director of that fair for 30 years.
Bogner and her husband Ronnie, another Ukiah native, moved to Lake County nearly 45 years ago but they remember the Frosties sign well.
“It was a landmark,” said Janeane Bogner. “Everybody who grew up in Ukiah drove by it for most of their lives.”
Mr. Frostie closed years ago, and the building was eventually torn down but the neon sign remained because of the city's refusal to allow its removal. The old Ukiah Grange building behind was later remodeled into business offices by the Mayfields. But the Frostie sign remained out front, looming 20 feet above State Street, and reminding passersby of Ukiah’s small-town heritage.
The Bogners and the Mayfields are old family friends and share a common interest in local heritage.
Ronnie Bogner recalled that he and his wife visited the Fresno County Fair a few years ago and were impressed by a collection of vintage neon commercial signs that have been refurbished and installed in an outdoor museum-like display on the fairgrounds there. “We really liked that they captured moments from the past,” said Bogner.
When the Bogners learned from the Mayfields about the uncertain fate of the Frosties sign, and how it had been rejected for placement in Ukiah, they acted. “We will take it,” Janeane Bogner told the Mayfields.
Ronnie Bogner had once worked on neon signs, and he knew the basics. Bogner enlisted a group of volunteers to help refurbish the sign and place it on a new footing in Lakeport.
Rick and Ryan Mayfield, two family members who are contractors, volunteered to take down the faded 6 by 10 foot sign. They delivered it to Jim Filippi’s shop for rewiring for LED lighting and a fresh paint job. Bogner and Filippi removed the neon glass tubing and transformers inside, emptied accumulated water from the inside, and removed frayed old wiring.
“Restoring it was a very labor-intensive task,” said Ronnie Bogner.
Bogner and Filippi spent hours on the sign. “No one had any idea about how to put on ‘neon LED’ to replace the glass tubing.”
They were finally given a price of $5,542 for just the neon LED, not including freight.
“The Mayfields were willing to pay up to $10,000 to relocate and refurbish the sign but this was crazy,” said Bogner.
Bogner spent more time researching and finally found a place in Montana that delivered the needed new lights for $2,400.
“The total price including paint and tools will probably be less than $4,000,” he said.
The sign’s original pole has been modified and placed over strong new steel support at the Lakeport site. A bronze marker donated by Gary Galeazzi and Eddie Eversole and honoring Sandra and John Mayfield is at the base. Tony Velasquez, a building truss installer, used his equipment to set the Frosties sign up 20 feet, the same height as it was in Ukiah.
Janeane Bogner said at Sunday’s dedication ice cream cones donated by Bruno’s Smart Shop in Lakeport will be served. “We are expecting a whole lot of people, including the Mayfields, and their grandchildren.
The Frostie sign will be a new attraction at the Lake County Fair, which runs over the Labor Day weekend.
“I cannot wait to see the sign lit up, and welcoming visitors,” said Janeane Bogner. “We are pretty excited.”