View Full Version : It is a cool sign

04-14-2010, 06:09 AM
Restored Robert E. Lee Motel sign to go on display

By Andre Teague/Bristol Herald Courier

Local muralist D.R. Mullins paints on Robert E. Lees nose as he restores the landmark motel sign Tuesday afternoon.

By Debra McCown | Reporter / Bristol Herald Courier
Published: April 14, 2010

BRISTOL, Va. You might not be able to stay at the Robert E. Lee Motel any longer, but your sofa can.

The sign that adorned the 1950s-era motel for about 60 years is about to go on display at its new home: a self-storage business just a short distance away on U.S. Highway 11, also known as Lee Highway.

Ron Counts, whos restoring the old sign, said he expects to put it up above the office of RCs Storage by Monday.

I like old signs, said Counts, whose wife, Tracey, said they spent about $1,900 to have it removed from the building and brought to their property when the county tore down the dilapidated old motel last year.

Ron Counts admits he was trying to be different when he placed antique vehicles amid the storage units for decoration but their house, which is not visible from the road, also has the look of a remodeled 1950s-era gas station.

With a love for old cars and old signs, he said, hes glad for the opportunity to restore the landmark and display it along the highway, both of which county officials required him to do when they allowed him to take the sign last year.

At the time of that decision, more than one person had approached the Washington County Board of Supervisors asking for the sign. The board members, however, wanted to keep it in the county.

I would rather have had someone back several years ago to have done some work on it [the hotel] that would have saved it, but obviously they did not do that, said Dulcie Mumpower, chairman of the Washington County Board of Supervisors who led the effort to have the building razed. Now its gone, but we still have the sign.

Counts said hes done much of the painting himself on the 35-foot-high sign, now covered by a fresh coat of turquoise and white. Working from a photograph, he was repainting some of the original stripes Tuesday.

Im really looking forward to it because I just want to see it standing tall again, he said.

Restoring the iconic image of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, the namesake of the hotel and the highway, is D.R. Mullins, an artist known for his murals at the Bristol Public Library and the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center.

Hes not my hero, but its a job, said Mullins, who at one time was the head scenic artist at Barter Theatre in Abingdon.

As a pacifist, Mullins said, he objects philosophically to the number of war heroes who are celebrated in American society while advocates for peace and humanity often go unnoticed. Still, he believes this work is harmless.

What Im doing is Im restoring a little bit of local iconography, Mullins said. You attribute this [image] not to war but to an old-time 50s restaurant that everybody loves.

The restaurant that was inside the Robert E. Lee is famous in its own right, for being one of three run by the man who later founded Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Mullins said restoring the painted profile has been a smoother process than he thought. He has been able to work from whats left of the original image.

Its going to look really close to like it did, he said. I think its starting to shape up.

dmccown@bristolnews.com| (276) 791-0701

04-14-2010, 06:54 AM
This stuff should be saved by folks that care..


04-14-2010, 06:58 AM
Bearskin Neck in Rockport (my childhood home) has one of those signs that wander around and gets restored every 40-50 years. A friend of mine has it on his store now. Oh yeah..he sells my CIVIL WAR figures. ;)